Agricultural producers know that the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) has programs to assist them when natural disasters strike and commodity prices decline; however, most producers take preventative measures to further protect their operation.
Koua Thao reached out to Gene Horne, FSA Farm Loan Manager, about diversifying his breeder hen operation in Miller County, Arkansas.
In 2005, Thao used a USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) Guaranteed Farm Ownership loan to purchase the breeder hen farm with two hen houses on 40 acres.
Thao and his wife, Mai Her, have a contract with Tyson. They provide the labor and management and Tyson supplies the hens and roosters. Once the hens lay their eggs, Tyson picks up the eggs, incubates them and hatches broilers which are raised for meat production.
Last year, Thao visited with Horne about purchasing cattle to graze the 40 acre pasture. Thao was approved for a USDA Microloan and purchased 22 cows and one bull to supplement his income and to graze the pasture, which in turn is fertilized with chicken manure.
USDA Microloans offer more flexible access to credit for small, beginning and niche agricultural operations. Microloans can be used for operating expenses or to purchase farmland. The maximum loan amount is $50,000. The application process is simple and requires less paperwork because of the smaller maximum loan amount.
“I don’t have much land, but USDA programs help quite a bit,” Thao said. “The cows keep the grass down and I hope they help out financially. I just got 11 calves and I’m hoping for 11 more in the next month.”
Thao is originally from Laos in Southeast Asia and originally settled in Minnesota, but relocated to Arkansas for the warmer climate and to be closer to relatives. He worked at a print shop before venturing into agriculture.
“Agriculture is in my blood,” Thao said. “My family has always done agriculture and agriculture is interesting to me. I like being outside and to work alone.”
Thao learned about FSA loans through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). He used NRCS programs to build high tunnels, install a micro irrigation system, construct an incinerator and build a litter stacking shed.
“Koua is a hard worker and obviously takes care of his cattle,” Horne said. “His cows are fleshy and look good. He’s new to the livestock business, but is willing to put in the work.”