Loan program for new immigrant and minority farmers approved

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A pilot project that would provide small business loans to immigrant and minority farmers could be available beginning Aug. 1, 2012, under a bill approved by the House Agriculture and Rural Development Policy and Finance Committee.

HF2159, sponsored by Rep. Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent), would grant loans up to $10,000 to qualified borrowers. Initial funding for the revolving loan program would come from a transfer of $225,000 in unused money in the Rural Finance Authority’s Agroforestry Loan Program.

The pilot project stipulates that the funds can only be used for purchasing materials for the growing of specialty crops and livestock and may not be used for the subsequent “value-added” costs of bringing those crops and livestock products to market, such as processing and storage.

Eligible borrowers would need to be a legal state resident; demonstrate the ability to repay the loan, which may include business training through an intermediary; and fall into one of two classifications, a protected group or a qualified noncitizen.

Because some religions do not allow for loan interest payments, an alternative fee payment could be established. Hmong, Latino and Somali farmers are some of the anticipated cultural groups who would seek the loans, according to Jim Boerboom, Department of Agriculture deputy commissioner.

The committee referred the bill to the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee. Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont) sponsors SF1713, a companion that was approved by the Senate Finance Committee Feb. 23.