Young Farmer Found the Financing He Needs to Keep Growing Through Capital Farm Credit

Ryan and Melanie Harper
Ryan and Melanie Harper at U.S. Capitol building during the Farm Credit Young Leaders Conference

Six years ago, Ryan Harper nearly gave up farming.

"In 2011, we didn't get a single drop of rain here in the Texas Panhandle," he recalls. "I couldn't even grow a weed. It was hard. I wasn't sure if farming was what I still wanted to do for a living."

Then 23, Harper, a fourth-generation farmer in Lamb and Bailey counties, worked odd jobs to pay his bills and keep afloat. Not one to quit, he hung on to his operation. Now 29, he produces cotton, grain sorghum, peanuts and grass seed on more than 1,000 acres near Sudan, Texas. He and his wife, Melanie, a high school math teacher, have a 2-year-old son, Reed, and another child on the way.

The young father embraces the farming lifestyle, which promotes a strong work ethic and family ties.

"As a kid, I always wanted to be a farmer," he says. "I grew up on a farm. Both my granddads, my uncles and my dad farmed in the area.

"After high school, I attended college for two years. Then I worked three years for a peanut company. I missed farming, so I went back home to Sudan. While I helped out my dad on his farm, I beat the bushes and found three dryland [177-acre] labors to lease." As needed, Harper used direct operating loans from the Farm Service Agency (FSA) to finance operating expenses.

Next Generation Program is Tailor-Made for Young and Beginning Farmers

Capital Farm Credit supports young and beginning farmers like the Harpers through its Next Generation Loan Program.*

"We need more young farmers, and this loan program helps them get started," says Muleshoe Branch Manager Greg Lance. " The program also builds Farm Credit loyalty. We hope to have these new customers for 40 or 50 years."

*Next Generation producers have generally managed their own ag operations for five years or less and are in the process of building a bona fide farm or ranch.

"That's a good program, but I couldn't get a loan when I needed one," he says. "Their application process takes a long time. I also outgrew what the FSA could lend to beginning farmers."

Enter Greg Lance, vice president and branch manager with Capital Farm Credit in nearby Muleshoe.

"I've known Ryan all his life," Lance says. "As a farmer, he makes smart business decisions and is very passionate about the vocation. I knew he'd be a good fit for our Next Generation Loan Program."

In 2014, Harper became a Capital Farm Credit member.

"I showed Greg what I needed, and he made it work," he says. "He made the process so easy. Now I have money when I need it. I don't have to wait. Capital Farm Credit's interest rates are competitive with commercial banks and, with the patronage program, my operation is growing at twice the rate."

In July, Ryan and Melanie attended the 2017 Farm Credit Young Leaders Program in Washington, D.C., and New York City. During the five-day tour, the couple discussed agricultural policy issues with USDA officials and met with their congressman, Rep. Jodey Arrington, as well as Rep. Mike Conaway, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. They also learned how Farm Credit uses its cooperative structure and unique funding mechanism to finance ag operations across the country.

"I found out that the Farm Credit System sells bonds, and that's how we get our loans," Harper says. "We don't cost the government a dime. I enjoyed learning all about it."

As for the future, Harper wants to keep growing his operation.

"My dad will retire in five to 10 years, and I want to be ready to take over his farm," he says. "I hope to grow a little more each year. But I'll be happy if I make enough to raise my family. No matter what happens, I want to keep farming!" - SSR