Increasing Access to Farm Loans for Small-Scale Regenerative Farmers
Regenerative agriculture is described as farming and grazing practices that help to reverse land degradation by rebuilding soil organic matter and biodiversity – which can have substantial impacts on the quality of the land and ecosystems. Yet, how do regenerative farmers take root?
Currently, getting funding as a regenerative farmer is extremely difficult in the US. Traditional loan and funding institutions pose many hurdles and challenges to farmers using regenerative practices. For example, the requirements needed to get loans and financial models used are based on prices and profits seen in commodity farming. When farming regeneratively, these numbers don’t work the same.
In order to see drastic change in the way we farm, equitable access to capital for local farms, ranches, fisheries, and producers needs to be provided.
Steward is a private lending partner, financing the growth of regenerative farms and sustainable producers through simple, flexible business loans. They bring together a community of values-driven lenders who participate in loans that fuel the growth of regenerative agriculture.
We sat down with Ryan Anderson, Senior Vice President of Services at Steward to understand what increasing access to funding for small-scale regenerative farmers looks like.
KK: What makes Steward different from other traditional lending institutions?
RA: First, we're focused on regenerative agriculture. Now, most of the funders in agriculture do not care about the environmental impact or the social impact of your practices. When you go to a bank, in the US, or you go to the Farm Credit System, they're only looking at your ability to turn out a profit and not what those broader social impacts are.
Second, when you apply for a loan with Steward, one of the first interactions with the company is direct with a member of the agricultural team, who is populated by farmers and former farmers themselves, who have a lot of experience and training with new and beginning farmers. We really want to have a conversation with you about your vision for how you're going to grow your own business. Often the traditional lending space seems to forget that [the] environment, the land you’re on, the weather you experience, and the customers in your region are all varied and different. So, what’s appropriate in one location might not be appropriate for another.
KK: How does regenerative funding make small-scale farming scalable?
RA: For most human scale regenerative farms, your vision for your business is not to become 100,000 acre production, right? You’re looking at “how can I build a business that’s going to support me and family, and provide quality food to my community”. So often, at Steward, we’re helping people make that more manageable scale, where it’s creating a quality of life for themselves and their employees.
If we’re going to affect the food system in the US, if we’re going to change the way people eat in the country, we’re also going to want to establish more and more of these successful businesses. We want to have fewer massive farms.
So when I think about scale at Steward, it's really, how can we help our borrowers have really strong successful businesses, because that's going to be appealing to more and more farmers themselves. And that's how we're going to get people into regenerative agriculture and scale up: the availability of this higher quality food.
KK: What we talk about a lot here at Local Line is keeping the power in the hands of the farmer. Again, I think a lot of people assume that scalability points to eventual conglomeration points and eventual sale off to a larger company. That's not what we're dealing with here. That's not what small-scale farming is about. That's not what the local food movement [is about].
When we think of regenerative farming, there are many things that fall under that definition. How does Steward define regenerative farming?
RA: When we talk about regenerative farming, we’re really talking about two things. One is a philosophy of farming that recognizes the damage that has been done to the environment and our communities by commodity agriculture. Second, it’s a set of practices that are intended to repair that damage.
So, when folks are looking at their own farm and aren’t fully regenerative yet or you’re a conventional grower and you want to make a shift - we’re really just looking at the values. If you’re aligned with us on values, we’re more than happy to work with farmers to develop a transition plan.
We believe the future of farming is supporting farmers with the tools they need to be profitable, efficient, and successful. Giving farmers transitioning to diversified, more regenerative practices access to funding is a huge part of that.
At Local Line, we’re on a hunt to discover and learn what the future of local food is.
Through speaking with inspiring guests, businesses, and organizations in the space, we hope to share our learnings with you. To stay informed for our next webcast, register here: