Young Farmers Program gets 10 started in Del.
By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
GEORGETOWN, Del. — Orville Syester III has been raising chickens pretty much his whole life with his father at Last Stop Farm in Delaware’s Kent County.
For the last few years, he tried to buy part of the farm and chicken houses from his father, but to no avail.
Not enough equity, bank after bank told him.
When he heard last summer about a program that offered no-interest loans to young Delaware farmers for buying farmland, he inquired immediately.
Last week, under shade trees next to the University of Delaware’s Elbert N. and Anne V. Carvel Center, Syester was announced as one of the first participants in the Delaware Young Farmers Program.
Through the program, he bought 28 acres which has five poultry houses on it and said without the program he likely wouldn’t have been able to buy it.
“It helps you out a lot,” he said of the program. “Not just a little bit. It gave me an opportunity.”
The program addresses a major challenge facing agriculture in the rising average age of those that work the land.
The high capital investment of entering the industry is a very real barrier to a lot of young farmers who want to run their own operation but are viewed as too high a risk by lenders to give financial backing.
The Delaware Young Farmers Program gives qualifying young farmers a no-interest loan to purchase farmland while preserving that farmland from development through the Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Program.
“The idea here, obviously, is to get people into farming and keep them farming,” said Austin Short, Delaware’s deputy secretary of agriculture, leading off the announcement event. “We think it’s a unique program and one that will make a significant impact in the future or agriculture in Delaware.”
In its first year, 10 loans were made, aiding in the purchase of almost 900 acres. The participants include a husband and wife, two pairs of brothers and a group of three brothers partnering in the program.
Five participants are starting up their operations, while five include family transfers of land. Eight are from Sussex County and two are from Kent County.
The program was launched in July 2011 by Gov. Jack Markell as a way to reduce the capital investment for young people looking to set up agribusiness operations.
Legislation sponsored by state senator George Bunting and state representative John Atkins got wide support from legislators, passed into law and It was funded through a $3 million allocation in the fiscal 2012 budget.
“They each had a dream to farm but didn’t see a path to get there,” Markell said of the young farmers who went through the program. “So with a little help from the taxpayers, we get to make it happen.”
Ed Kee, Delaware secretary of agriculture said the issue of getting young people a chance to farm on their own was a topic he and former longtime Kent County ag agent Dave Woodward discussed often going back to into the 1970s.
“That idea never left us and now circumstances allowed it to come together,” Kee said.
With more than 105,000 acres of farmland preserved in Delaware, Kee said the state has been exceptional at saving the state’s physical agricultural resource.
“Now we’re also looking at the human resource,” he said, “that next generation of farmers.
Eligible farmers must be between the ages of 18 and 40, have at least three years of farming experience and a net worth of no more than $300,000.
The loan money must go towards purchasing farmland in Delaware that contains at least 15 tillable acres zoned for agricultural use.
Participants must actively use the land for agricultural purposes for the term of the loans.
The 30-year, no-interest loans may fund up to 70 percent of the value of the property’s development rights, defined as the difference between full market value and agricultural value, up to a maximum of $500,000.
At the event last week, Markell said the program will continue with the second round of applications due by Oct. 31. Syester said his main reason for wanting to buy the farm was to be able to give his 12-year-old son Benjamin a chance to take over one day if he wants.
“Maybe this program will be there for him, I don’t know,” he said. “But it gets us started.”