According to the 2017 ag census, 370,619 producers nationwide either had served or were actively serving in the U.S. military with over half of them claiming production agriculture as their primary source of income. On the state level, Montana reported in their ag census there are 5,132 producers in the state with military service history and the majority of these producers have been involved in production agriculture for 11 years or more.

Military men and women play a vital role in defending our freedoms as Americans and the USDA is committed to helping veterans get a start in agriculture after they return from service. 11 percent of U.S. producers have proudly served for our country. With a national age average of 67.9, veterans in agriculture are a full decade older then U.S. producers as a whole, making it vital that veterans with an interest in agriculture have the tools they need to succeed in the field.   

Veterans have access to all loans and programs offered through the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA). In fact, veterans are given preference on their loan applications and their military service can contribute to the experience requirements on most loans. For example, an honorable discharge from the military is equivalent to having one year of operating experience.

The FSA offers two basic types of loans: Direct Farm Loans and Guaranteed Farm Loans. The Direct Farm Loans are designed to help farmers, ranchers and veterans start or expand their current operation. This loan is great for producers starting out that may have limited financial history, or for current producers that may have encountered financial setbacks. Guaranteed Farm Loans are available to farmers and ranchers who may not meet the minimum requirements for loan qualification from a commercial lender. These loans are serviced by traditional lenders, but the FSA guarantees them against loss up to 95 percent.

“The overall goal of the FSA is to take beginning farmers and ranchers, veterans and those who are traditionally under-served and get them into commercial credit,” explained Marilyn McMullen of the FSA state office in Bozeman, Mont. McMullen oversees the Farm Loan Program for the state.

In short, the FSA can be thought of as a lender of first opportunity, helping veterans and beginning producers get the financial start that they need. Interest rates on all FSA loans fluctuate slightly each month and are based on the U.S. Treasury Rate.

Veterans returning home should take note of the services offered to them through the USDA and the FSA. On the national level, the USDA has a Military Veteran Agriculture Liaison, which reports directly to the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture. In addition, the USDA offers educational and internship opportunities by connecting returning service men and women with mentors already established in production agriculture.   

“There is a peace of mind that comes from working the land and working with animals that is often attractive to veterans,” McMullen stated.

Further, there is a huge employment opportunity for veterans through the FSA, who are always on the lookout for new loan officers, and veterans that have loan or ag credit experience are encouraged to reach out. The USDA also prioritizes hiring America’s Heroes because they know veterans have the experience and work ethic necessary across the department.

All beginning farmers, ranchers and veterans are encouraged to visit newfarmers.usda.gov. The site offers focused information that can help individuals prioritize their search for information. Visit farmers.gov to locate your local FSA office.