AGRICULTURE AND FORESTRY DEVELOPMENT SERVICES (AFDS)
We're delighted with your interest in Virginia agriculture and happy to share some resources to help you explore beginning your own agricultural operation.
In terms of farming assistance, the best place to start on the local level is with Virginia Cooperative Extension.
For farming assistance at the State level, Virginia State University specializes is assisting small farmers and those interested in alternative or specialty agriculture.
If you’re interested in organic farming USDA has great information, and at the State level the Virginia Association for Biological Farming is a good resource. VDACS also offers a cost-share program for obtaining USDA organic certification.
To learn more about the specific area or type of agriculture, one of the best things you can do is talk with people already doing what you are interested in doing. Ask you Extension Agent for a recommendation or use the Virginia Grown guide to find a like producer.
Business Planning Resources
Starting a farm business is not much different than starting other businesses. Therefore, you should take advantage of the terrific small business development and entrepreneurial resources available in Virginia.
Three places to look for assistance are:
- Virginia Small Business Development Centers
- Virginia FAIRS (The Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability) offers a Virtual Business Center with easy, step-by-step forms that help you create a personalized business plan and financial statements, all for free.
- Most of the Commonwealth is served by sites participating in the Virginia Enterprise Initiative, which assist entrepreneurs in starting new businesses and helps disadvantaged individuals gain business skills and access to credit. To find the one serving you click here.
Another resource for those interested in farming for the first time are “The Small Farm Dream Courses” occasionally offered by the Piedmont Environmental Council.
You also may want to check out the “Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Project” led by Dr. Kim Niewolny at Virginia Tech. This project is in the process of developing a “Whole Farm Planning” curriculum for beginning farmers like yourself interested in taking the next step. Click here for the project website.
We are often asked about grants or other sources of “free money” for individuals who want to start farming, such programs do not exist. There are, however, a variety of low-interest, guaranteed and other loan products available that are well-suited for beginning farmers.
We have compiled a table of the best financing resources for agriculture and forestry businesses, find it here.
That said, we want to highlight two particularly important resources:
The USDA – Farm Service Agency (FSA), which offers a variety of loan programs, including some specifically targeted toward beginning farmers.
To speak with a FSA Farm Loan Manager about your specific situation, contact your local USDA service center.
The US Small Business Administration offers a variety of loan products, which could be appropriate for starting an agricultural enterprise. To learn more about these programs or to speak with someone in Virginia’s SBA office about your situation, contact the Virginia District office.
Creating the product is one thing, selling it at a worthwhile price is another. Fortunately, VDACS Direct Marketing Services unit offers a variety of information and assistance for getting your product to market. Under the Marketing Department you will find two of VDACS signature Marketing programs:
- The Virginia Grown program is a VDACS marketing tool promoting fresh, local products to consumers and has a proven tract record for increasing visibility, developing additional media attention and enhancing marketing opportunities for Virginia Grown products. The program offers point-of-sale materials, consumer-oriented publications on where to locate products, and conducts promotional campaigns throughout the year. For more information, visit VirginiaGrown.com.
- The Virginia's Finest program is standards-based. Industry sets the standards, which are approved by VDACS. Then producers or processors whose products meet those standards may apply to participate in the program. Program participants have the benefit of adding the logo to their packaging, which many retailers are looking for when they buy Virginia products. VDACS also keeps program participants aware of all types of shows, festivals and other events where Virginia's Finest is being featured. For more information, visit VaFinest.com.
|T. Robins Buck|
Senior Project Manager
804.371.6094, Cell: 804.840.9449
804.786.6911, Cell: 804.382.4023