As a native Georgian, it is always a treat to go back home and see what’s happening on my family farm as well as the farms of my neighbors. Today I had the pleasure of meeting Jean Oliver, a dedicated mother, daughter and cattle farmer. She recently received a microloan from the Farm Service Agency to help build her operation. Within the next 10 years, Jean plans to make the leap from working 9-to-5 as a counselor with the Cook County school system to living off of her family’s 200-year-old farm, raising and selling cattle.
Here is her story:
For three years, Jean Oliver went into the Colquitt County Farm Service Agency (FSA) office in Georgia and asked questions. Those questions ended this spring when she applied for a microloan that will help prepare her for retirement.
“I want to make it a big operation,” she said. But she was raised to only borrow money if it is absolutely necessary. So when her son came home from college and said he was going to apply for a loan from FSA to start a cow operation, she talked him out of it.
“I just couldn’t see it happening,” said Oliver. But it piqued her interest enough to investigate what FSA offered.
“I asked questions, but never did the paperwork,” she said. “I couldn’t understand why the interest rate was so low or how they were able to offer these programs. All I heard was my father’s voice in my head saying ‘Is this a good deal?’ ‘Can you do without it?’”
After giving it plenty of thought, she decided that a loan would help meet her retirement goal faster. “It took me three years to get the nerve to do it, but the people were so patient and understanding.”
She received an FSA microloan to help buy cows to start building her operation, Four J Cattle, LLC.
The FSA microloan program is available to all farmers, including beginning, small and mid-sized farmers, providing up to $50,000 in loans using a simplified application process. Since the program began in 2013, over 14,150 farmers have received microloans. Participation in the popular program has increased 62 percent since last year, with 5,725 microloan – averaging $24,000 – this year alone. About 70 percent of microloans are issued to beginning farmers and 55 percent to first-time FSA borrowers.
Oliver’s experience was so positive that she allowed her daughter to apply for an FSA youth loan for her Future Farmers of America (FFA) project. At age 14, the soon-to-be high-school freshman used the loan to purchase a show cow. FSA youth loans allow for establishing and operating income-producing projects in connection with their participation in 4-H Clubs, FFA and similar organizations.
“She is learning responsibility and the relationships she develops will last a lifetime,” said Oliver, who is a strong advocate for female farmers. “There are a lot of successful female farmers and my father always said being female is not a disability,” said Oliver. “I may not be able to pick up 500 pounds, but I’ll find a way to move it. I try to foster that attitude in my daughter.”