By Maggie Edwards
Cattle, family and Farm Service Agency (FSA) Youth Loans have been the center of the Burgess family’s farm in Blount County for the past eight years.
“I am a 4-H Extension agent, and my main expertise is in youth development,” said Amy Burgess, an alumna of the Alabama Farmers Federation’s premier leadership initiative, Agricultural Leaders For Alabama. “I have worked with FSA Youth Loans for many years, signing off on lawn, swine and cattle projects. I knew that when my kids got older, we would take advantage of this opportunity. The FSA Youth Loans are a great way for kids to get involved in an ag project, build their own credit and learn money management.”
Amy and husband James helped their oldest child, Abby, start the loan process when she turned 10. Abby, now 18, has since helped the family dive into Simmental cattle production using the maximum FSA Youth Loan amount of $5,000 to purchase better genetics and stock. Her brothers, 14-year-old twins Cooper and Will, followed in their sister’s footsteps at age 10, too — with a twist.
After getting the FSA-required recommendation from a local Extension agent, Cooper bought two bred cows and a bred heifer, while Will focused on entrepreneurship. He purchased a bull he now rents to his parents’ and siblings’ herds.
FSA Youth Loans are available for youth between the ages of 10 and 20, with the requirement to pay the balance off within seven years. Abby, Cooper and Will pay down their loans once a year with money made from selling calves.
“A big takeaway from the loan is the importance of budgeting,” said Abby, who graduated from Susan Moore High School in May. “I had to set aside a certain amount from selling calves and prize money from cattle shows to help buy supplies. I also had to make sure I was set to cover my payments and put some into savings for college.”
Abby expanded her knowledge of the cattle industry through showing cattle at events such as the Jr. Livestock Expo, sponsored by the Federation.
“I learned that you can put a lot more money into farming than you make, but that’s OK because it is all for the greater good,” Abby said. “Less than 2% of the population are farmers, and it’s up to us to feed the entire world.”
Cooper also found a love for exhibiting cattle, raising a herd and spending long nights in the barn. He also used the Youth Loan program to help with his 4-H Pig Squeal project.
“’I’ve been around cattle my entire life,” Cooper said. “I never remember a time when I wasn’t. I make a lot of inconsistent money in the cattle business, with only selling so many times a year. I have to make money stretch.”
He added the financial and farming process offers great learning opportunities.
“It teaches you to roll with the punches, to persevere and how to handle money at a young age,” he said.
Burgess patriarch James didn’t grow up on a farm but has learned the intricacies of agriculture since marrying into a cattle-centric family. He said he enjoys seeing his children involved with youth projects.
“This project really forces the kids to make difficult decisions,” James said. “Their money is on the line. We were already raising cattle, but this loan gave them the chance to have skin in the game.”
James and Amy agree the FSA Youth Loan program has been vital to Abby, Cooper and Will’s growth — teaching them about agriculture, responsibility, hard work and how to be productive citizens.
“This teaches them personal and financial responsibility,” James said.
Amy said another boon is her children are learning about the structure of government, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its impact on farmers.
“This is an underutilized program of FSA,” Amy said. “A lot of parents are hesitant in getting their kids involved in animal agriculture because of the cost. This is a way to defer that cost to give young people time to work hard, earn money and pay it back.”
For more information about FSA Youth Loans, visit fsa.usda.gov.