Sunday August 31, 2014

Small loans will make a difference

It may not be the entire future of farming in North America, but a move by the U.S. to offer microloans to small farmers may be enough to encourage young people to get in the business of food production.

The new loan program takes advantage of the growing interest in small-area farming at a time when large-scale, single-crop operations are being affected by drought, worldwide competition and massive costs.

Call it a boost to the so-called 100 Mile Diet.

Granted, it isn’t free money, but the idea of microloans — often used in developing nations to help poor borrowers lacking collateral, employment and credit history — is a relatively low-risk way to get a foot in the barn door. The interest rate is 4.9 per cent and the loan doesn’t have to be repaid for seven years, giving farmers ample time to grow their business.

It’s a model that could be easily duplicated in Canada.

The U.S. plan offers up to $35,000 to help family-run farms grow produce on a direct-to-consumer basis, like a farmers’ market, and create more opportunities for entrepreneurship and employment in the farming industry.

And the move to smaller loans will improve the chances of success, as young families will be more encouraged to take the leap into farming because there will be less risk.

That goes a long way because as it stands, lenders typically loan hundreds of thousands to farming operations, sums so high that anyone thinking about entering the industry is scared away. But the thought of securing a small loan to help with irrigation, small farming tools and equipment, and all the dozens of other little things that are bound to crop up, will help make the transition easier.

In a time when consumers are hungry for locally-grown food, any attempt to push young people into farming will also benefit the environment, people’s health and food security.

Like many farmers are apt to warn, hardships and failures are bound to happen. But those who can make the most of a small boost, will undoubtedly find fulfilment in farming.

We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by publisher Tim Shoults, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.

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