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Farm Credit Administration tours the Midwest

The seven-stop tour of Farm Credit System-financed projects in Minnesota and Iowa included visits to the Hmong American Farmers Association, Farmamerica, the Minnesota Agricultural Interpretive Center and Lakeview Methodist Health Care Center.

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The new lobby of Farmamerica, the Minnesota Agricultural Interpretive Center, in Waseca, Minnesota, on May 17, 2022.
Noah Fish / Agweek
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WASECA, Minn. ― Leaders from the agency regulating the nation's largest provider of financing for agriculture made a visit to Minnesota and Iowa to expose Washington, D.C.-based staff to Midwest agriculture, to learn how the Farm Credit System is support young, beginning and small farmers and to see how they're investing in rural healthcare.

The Farm Credit Administration — the federal agency that regulates the Farm Credit System — conducted a Midwest farm tour through the two states on May 17 and 18. 

The Farm Credit System is a nationwide network of lending institutions that are owned by their borrowers. With assets of more than $428 billion, the FCS is the primary source of financing for American agriculture.

The seven-stop tour of FCS-financed projects in Minnesota and Iowa provided agency staff with up-close experience and knowledge of how FCS lenders support young, beginning, and small farmers and ranchers along with rural health care facilities. 

Glen Smith, chairman and CEO of the Farm Credit Administration, was on the tour along with executives from FCS institutions and Farm Credit Services of America.

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The Minnesota leg of the tour began with stops at the Hmong American Farmers Association in Dakota County and Twin Cities Berry Company in Farmington, before the group stopped at Farmamerica, the Minnesota Agricultural Interpretive Center.

Jessica Rollins, executive director at Farmamerica, said that the center has been around since the state founded it in the 1970s. The site, which has a total of 360 acres, has since become a 501(c)(3) organization.

"Our mission is to connect people to the evolving story of agriculture through hands on educational experiences, partnerships and community engagement," said Rollins. "And then by doing that, we look to find a space where Minnesotans and consumers see agriculture as a solution."

Rollins said the center is best known for its timeline walking path where it helps visitors go back in time from the 1800s up to the 1930s of farming in the state.

"We do field trips, day camps, guided tours, self-guided tours and fun family activities on Saturdays," said Rollins.

Farmamerica has embarked on a $850,000 capital campaign to expand and renovate its existing facilities.

The plans include to remodel the Visitor Center with interactive exhibits and experiences about agriculture’s impact on everyday lives, upgrade classroom space, add new year-round agriculture literacy opportunities and provide a safe outdoor playground.

"Part of our rooted and growing capital campaign that we're in the middle of, is to build an additional space where people can discover that agriculture is all around them," said Rollins.

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Rollins said it was an honor to be on the list of stops for the Midwest tour

"This is a great group of folks we have coming in today to have lunch at Farmamerica," said Rollins. "It's exciting to have them in our space, because a lot of them have not been to Farmamerica before."

The second day of the tour took place at stops in Iowa, where Smith was raised on a diversified crop and livestock farm. The FCA CEO and chairman said there were three goals of the tour, with the first being to familiarize FCA employees with its mission.

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Glen Smith, chairman and CEO of the Farm Credit Administration, at Farmamerica, the Minnesota Agricultural Interpretive Center in Waseca, Minnesota, on May 17, 2022.
Noah Fish / Agweek

"A lot of our employees are from the D.C. area or other metropolitan areas around the country, and with our service to agriculture, we feel it is very important for them to connect with our mission to agriculture," said Smith.

The second goal was to showcase how FCS lenders support young, beginning, and small farmers and ranchers through lending and related services, said Smith.

"Each of them have their own individual program, and we feel as the regulator it's so important that they encourage the advancement and growth for YBS programs," said Smith. "To showcase those, we're going to be visiting several farms featuring young and beginning farmers."

The third goal of the tour was accomplished at the the last stop in Minnesota, which was at Lakeview Methodist Health Care Center in Fairmont. The center is a senior care facility that provides nursing care for short and long-term stays. Smith said that FCS institutions, such as Compeer Financial in Minnesota, have the authority to invest part of their capital in rural health care facilities.

"They've had excellent experience in that," said Smith of Compeer Financial with the center in Fairmont.

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Smith, who was designated chairman and CEO of the FCA by President Donald Trump in July 2019, has served as a member of the FCA board since 2017. He said even before that, he was a firm believer in the work by FCS institutions.

"This year will mark 40 years that my wife and I have been engaged in farming, and we started out as beginning farmers in western Iowa, close to Atlantic, Iowa," said Smith of their family's farm, Smith Generation Farms Inc., which has grown to encompass about 2,000 acres devoted to corn, soybeans, hay and a small beef cow herd.

He said throughout the years, he's had "numerous" farm credit loans along with loans through a commercial banker, and loans that were part of Farmer Mac — a secondary market for farm loans.

"From the start of my nomination, even when I appeared before the Senate Ag Committee, I said I believed in alternatives to farmers for financing, and competition in financing," said Smith. "So all those areas are important."

More young farmers

Smith said that efforts to increase support by FCS institutions to young, beginning, and small farmers has ramped up in recent years, as the average age of the U.S. farmer continues to rise.

"It's been successful, but in any program, there's areas for improvement," said Smith of those efforts.

He said the FCA board recently passed a proposed regulation that would move the accountability of FCS institutions to young, beginning and small farmers "up to the next level."

"We're keeping close track of the metrics, and the numbers in young, beginning and small farmers, and making sure those numbers are accurate," said Smith of the requirements made in the Farm Credit Act to report annually to Congress. "No. 1 is to get those numbers right, and number two is to promote best practices."

He said those two things were both checked off while visiting the Hmong American Farmers Association earlier that day.

"I was very impressed with that, because they took advantage of the research, the technology, the financing of the group as a whole and then made it available to the individual producers," said Smith of HAFA's business model. "So that's one thing I mentioned, about sharing best practices throughout the country. Obviously that's an excellent example of how we can help those young entrepreneurs get started."

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He's also the host of the Agweek Podcast.

While covering agriculture he's earned awards for his localized reporting on the 2018 trade war, and breaking news coverage of a fifth-generation dairy farm that was forced to sell its herd when a barn roof collapsed in the winter of 2019. His reporting focuses on the intersection of agriculture, food and culture.

He reports out of Rochester, Minnesota, and can be reached at nfish@agweek.com
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