FRANKFORT – Funding can hardly keep up with demand for a new niche of state-supported farm loans available in over 50 Kentucky Appalachian counties.
“They tell me they’re out of money again, which is a really good thing,” Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy Executive Director Warren Beeler told the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee today about the SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) Farm Loans offered in Kentucky’s 54 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) counties in partnership with London-based Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation.
Beeler said nearly $1 million in state tobacco settlement money has been invested in 141 of the four-year loans, each offered at a maximum of $7,500 and 1-percent fixed rate of interest.
About $750,000 in Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund (KADF) money funneled into the SOAR loans has generated over $1 million in loans to date, Kentucky Highlands Program Director Michael Hayes told the committee. He said the last round of loan funds was received in April and completely loaned out by June 30.
“That $7,500 niche — there’s a pretty big demand out there for (that),” said Hayes. “As soon as it comes back in we lend it out. One hundred percent of the money goes to the farmers.”
Responding to questions about loan demand from Committee Co-Chair Rep. Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke, Hayes said there are five or six applicants in queue who qualify for loans right now.
Luckily, he said, more loan funding is making its way back into the program.
“The money’s coming back in. We’ve added $275,000 in repayments. But there’s a pretty big demand for that small (loan),” said Hayes.
Three other programs showcased by Beeler today were Kentucky State University’s $5,000 agricultural mini-grant program, the non-profit Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (KCARD)—supported in part by grants supported through KADF—and a youth program component of CAIP, or the County Agricultural Investment Program, also under KADF.
Beeler said “youth CAIP,” as he calls it, streamlines a county’s ability to use its share of the state’s tobacco settlement money for youth agricultural projects. Projects range from entering a country ham at the state fair to showing livestock, he said.
“So it’s working, it’s working,” said Beeler. “We continue to try and figure out how to make this money new again.”