Agriculture is a tough industry, but fortunately, so are the growers and ranchers in it. It’s a truism that AgAmerica Lending Correspondent Lender Carmeron Flowers knows all too well, and it has rung especially true in his home state of South Carolina. Raised on his family’s tobacco and swine farm, Cameron spent his youth in ag fields and accompanying barns, even when he was in school. During his education at Clemson University where he earned a degree in Food Science, he served as Student Body Vice-President, managed a $2.4 million budget, increased ag funding at the university by 10 percent, and achieved many more accolades. With a lifetime of agriculture under his belt, he currently runs a small herd of grassfed Angus and understands first-hand the challenges farmers and ranchers face on a daily basis.
As a member of the AgAmerica Lending team since 2013, Cameron has been putting his knowledge to good use for the agriculture industry. Here he answers a few questions to offer financial insight for growers and industry colleagues with South Carolina land loans.
Describe some challenges and successes you’ve experienced recently with your small cattle herd?
I was just approved for a grant through the Natural Resource & Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which will allow me to improve the fencing, watering stations, and grazing pastures on my ranch. As I continue to grow my cattle herd, I plan to implement a rotational grazing strategy that will improve my efficiency and bottom line.
The grant money will be used to:
- Put in a new well and three watering tanks (heavy use areas)
- Apply new cross-fencing to my pastures, keeping cattle out of ponds and other wetland areas and improving rotational grazing
- Plant additional varieties and acreage of forage/pasture for my cattle
As a correspondent lender in South Carolina, what advice can you offer growers looking to expand their ag operations in the state?
In my opinion, bigger is not always better when it comes to your bottom line. In fact, some of the best decisions a few of my clients have made is to cut back on their operational expenses. By releasing some of their lower-performing leased acreage and instead adding irrigation to the better-performing land that they farm, they made more money across the board and increased their property value.
If you definitely feel that you need to expand, I would say make sure you are doing what you have been doing in the past as efficiently and effectively as possible. After that, be sure to take into consideration the need for additional labor or equipment that may be needed.
What crops would you recommend for diversification?
I was talking with a farmer the other week about this and he made a statement that “there is no gold calf out there right now that we can go to and feel really good about turning a profit.” I have to agree with this statement. AgAmerica just published a whitepaper on crop diversification trends across the country. The top five crops added by farmers in the Mid-Atlantic states this year are peppers, corn, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, and tomatoes.
In addition, I believe poultry and swine businesses will be good revenue streams going forward. These integrator contracts provide steady sources of income that have helped a lot of farms stay profitable in recent years. If you have the chance to add some of these commercial operations to your business, I think that would be a smart move.
With the recent El Niño weather pattern, how were SC farmers affected and what should be their focus right now regarding their operation’s finances if they suffered a loss from harvest?
The El Niño weather has no doubt had a huge impact on the ag industry in South Carolina. The 1,000 year flood that hit last fall caused over $1 billion in economic losses. The fact that it happened in October, when all of the crop inputs were in and ready to be harvested, made it even more crippling. It required many farmers to tap into the equity they had built up in order to cover short term losses. My advice for farmers is to tighten their belts; try to eliminate unnecessary expenses both in their farming operations and in family living expenses. Every dollar counts. Don’t push your crop quite as hard this year in order to cut back on some risk.
In addition, I think it is smart to stretch out your payment schedules when the opportunity allows it. It is extremely difficult to cash flow land on a 5-, 7-, or 10-year amortization schedule as many farmers have done historically. Sure, make those big payments if conditions and prices are strong, but I think setting yourself up with a longer amortization schedule, like those offered by AgAmerica, allows for more flexibility. Not being handcuffed into having to make large principal and interest payments can be the difference in surviving the next couple of years with decreased margins.
At AgAmerica Lending, we have a keen sense of the ins and outs of earning a livelihood as a farmer or rancher. As land loan specialists for cattle ranch loans and other ag loans, we put our experience and expertise to work for agribusiness across the country, helping farmers and ranchers to grow and succeed with our low interest rates, long amortizations, and outstanding 10-year line of credit.
Cameron Flowers is a 7th generation South Carolinian having been born and raised in Aynor, South Carolina. He grew up working on his family’s tobacco and swine farm, and in high school won both the state FFA soil judging and farm business management competitions.