Ten young Delaware farm families and individuals are on their way to owning their dreams with help from an innovative economic development program designed to boost agribusiness in the First State. The farmers from Kent and Sussex Counties all received help purchasing land – nearly 900 acres total – from the Delaware Young Farmers Program.
The help came in the form of a no-interest loan program launched in July 2011 by Governor Jack Markell. It was funded through a $3 million allocation in the fiscal 2012 budget. Part of the deal is that land purchased through the program is permanently preserved as farmland through Delaware's Agricultural Lands Preservation Program.
Farmers must actively use the land for agricultural purposes for the term of the loans. The 30-year, no-interest loans may fund up to 70% percent of the value of the property's development rights. That's defined as the difference between full market value and agricultural value, up to a maximum of $500,000.
Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee added that Delaware's investment will pay off for generations to come. "Many young people are turned off from a career in farming because of the high cost of entering the business," Kee said. "This commitment shows them that there's support and hope to achieve their aspirations. It's also a sign to agribusinesses that agriculture has a bright future in the First State."
The average age of these Young Farmers Program participants is 26, compared to 55 for the average Delaware farmer. They include a husband and wife, a group of two brothers and a group of three brothers, for a total of 10 new farms. Five are starting up their operations, while five include family transfers of land.
Eight are from Sussex County and two from Kent County. The first program participants were able to purchase land near Felton, Farmington, Greenwood, Seaford, Bethel, Laurel, Gumboro, Millsboro and Selbyville.
A Kent County example
Phillip and Cara Sylvester, a Felton-area couple, used the loan to help expand their farming operation where they grow corn, soybeans, wheat and lima beans. "The [program] helped us do that earlier than we otherwise would have been able to," explained Cara. "We saw this as a great opportunity."
The loan help purchase 98 acres of land that had been in Phillip's family since the 1950s. They had purchased 40 acres it a few years ago. But their dream of owning the entire property had been on hold.
New application round underway
Another round of application began on August 1, with $3.3 million available for the new round, according to Deputy Ag Secretary Austin Short. Thirty farmers have already been pre-qualified for the new round.
While not required, pre-qualification helps farmers ensure that they meet the criteria for the program and gives Department of Agriculture officials a way to gauge interest. "We are excited to see the interest and the initiative shown by these young farmers," Short said. "This is a way to help young people overcome the high cost of land and enter into agriculture."
Eligible farmers must be between the ages of 18 and 40, have at least three years of farming experience and a net worth of no more than $300,000. The loan money is used to help purchase Delaware farmland containing at least 15 tillable acres zoned for agricultural use.
For more program details or to submit a pre-qualification application, visit http://dda.delaware.gov/YoungFarmers.shtml, or contact Austin Short at (800) 282-8685 (Delaware only), (302) 698-4500 or email email@example.com.