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April 5, 2018

Kennebec County farmer gets key startup support from lending co-op

Courtesy / Farm Credit East
Courtesy / Farm Credit East
Steven Christianson, owner of Christianson Farm LLC, in Readfield, is joined by his wife, Caroline, and their son, Easten, along with their FarmStart advisor Kathryn Bisson from Farm Credit East's Auburn office.

About Farm Credit East

Farm Credit East, the Northeast's largest agricultural lending cooperative, extended more than $6.6 billion in loans in 2017 and has 20 local offices in its seven-state service area. It distributed a record $60 million in cash patronage dividends to more than 11,400 farm, fishing and forestry business owners and operators across Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. This is the 22nd consecutive annual patronage payment paid by Farm Credit East. In addition to loans and leases, the organization also offers a full range of agriculturally specific financial services for businesses related to farming, horticulture, forestry and commercial fishing. Farm Credit East is governed by a 17-person board of directors.

About FarmStart

FarmStart LLP is a joint initiative of Farm Credit East, Yankee Farm Credit and CoBank to fulfill Farm Credit's long-term commitment to support a vibrant, entrepreneurial Northeast agricultural community. The program invests working capital of up to $75,000 to help beginning Northeast farm, forest products and commercial fishing businesses and cooperatives become operational. Each FarmStart participant completes a business plan and monthly cash flow to serve as a roadmap for their startup business. A FarmStart advisor works with each participant to help the new business stay on track toward achieving their business objectives. Additionally, Farm Credit East's Knowledge Exchange program offers resources for these startup producers via hot-topic webinars and industry reports and analysis.

A Readfield farmer credits Farm Credit East's FarmStart program with providing the working capital and business advice that have helped him establish what is now a 300-acre diversified farm of livestock, vegetables and hay.

Farm Credit East's FarmStart program has invested more than $11.3 million with over 250 farming and fishing entrepreneurs in the Northeast, including Maine, since it was launched more than a decade ago. The program provides working capital of up to $75,000 to agricultural, fishing and forest products ventures showing promise of success, with a particular focus on helping young and beginning entrepreneurs in those sectors.

"The future of Northeast agriculture, commercial fishing and forest products industries is dependent on new entrants," Farm Credit East CEO Bill Lipinski said in a news release about the program that launched in August 2006. "That is why we initiated this innovative program more than a decade ago to meet the demands for capital and financial management skills that entrepreneurs need to get started in various agriculture sectors."

How FarmStart works

Steven Christianson, owner of Christianson Farm LLC in Readfield, runs a diversified business growing a mix of vegetables for its farm stand, while also raising beef and hogs that are sold retail at the farm stand and direct to local customers. According to Farm Credit East, Christianson purchased his first two cows in 2009 and today has more than 60 animals and harvests about 300 acres of corn, hay and vegetable crops.

He turned to the FarmStart program after being denied commercial financing because he only had two years of crop and tax records.

"Then I learned about FarmStart and they were willing to work with me," he said. "My FarmStart advisor understands my goals and how my operation works. It's been a very good relationship."

Christianson's FarmStart advisor Kathryn Bisson said compared with traditional lending relationships, she takes on a greater advisory role with FarmStart customers.

"I assist in the preparation of business plans, the tracking and follow up of management goals and objectives, while also helping to connect customers with other Farm Credit East resources," she said. "It is rewarding to be able to work with beginning farmers through the early stages of their business, and see how their hard work pays off over the next few years."

Matt Senter, Farm Credit East senior vice president, who's based in the Auburn office, said the FarmStart program's combination of "working capital and the valuable insight" provided by advisors like Bisson, give startup businesses "much improved odds of long-term success."

"In a business like Steven's, his strong farm management and marketing skills are complemented by the expertise of FarmStart staff and the flexibility of repayment terms," Senter said.

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