Cash Dividend Funds Help First-Generation Farmer Build Operation

Cash Dividend Funds Help First-Generation Farmer Build Operation

Getting a farm up and running takes a lot of time, effort, and money. When Steve Bullins, of Wilkes County, made a commitment with his son, Vess, to purchase seven pullet houses, the focus was on the hard work to make the new-to-them operation a success. That’s why, when the cash dividend, or patronage program payouts, rolled around in April, a sizeable check was not only a surprise but a welcomed cash infusion to the farm.

“It has been a big deal,” says Steve. “It has helped tremendously for Vess to purchase his tractors and his hay equipment. The patronage program has been a big plus. For me, it is a major tool for a first-generation farmer like Vess. Farming is almost impossible to start out at the bottom and that is what we did, start at the bottom. Vess was very blessed because he uses the patronage funds to buy his equipment. He uses that money and the money he makes to get him where he needs to be.”

Steve is pleased to have been able to work with Carolina Farm Credit to secure the loan to help his son get his farm operation started. While Steve co-signed the loan with Vess, it’s his son who has the seven-day-a-week responsibility that comes with overseeing the poultry houses and all the work that entails.

While the patronage program has been welcomed, it’s just one aspect of Carolina Farm Credit that Steve values. He cites the important relationship that began when he and Vess first talked with Ryan Bledsoe of Carolina Farm Credit about their interest in either purchasing or building poultry houses.

Steve explains that as part of the process, he and Vess met with Carolina Farm Credit and with several other financial institutions.

“Ryan Bledsoe was very consistent. He and Carolina Farm Credit have an outstanding reputation in the community. He was highly recommended for keeping his word,” says Steve.

One of the hallmarks of Carolina Farm Credit lenders is their knowledge of the agricultural community and their desire to build relationships with customer members by visiting their farm operations, discussing their needs, and working to help farmers achieve their goals. Toward that end, Steve says he has not been disappointed. “Farm Credit has done everything that they said they would do for me. There were no surprises.”

Steve says he was pleased to find that the interest rates at Carolina Farm Credit are competitive and when you consider the cash dividend (usually around 1 percent) the interest rates are lower than other lenders. The pleasant surprise, he says, was that the first-year patronage check was nearly 1.4 percent.

An attractive feature of the cash dividend or patronage program is that the customer member has the say in how they spend the payout. While some customer members choose to put their patronage check toward paying off their loan, Steve says it has helped his son put the check toward farm equipment.

“It was his dream to become a farmer,” says Steve. “We didn’t think it was possible because of the amount of money. Ryan and Carolina Farm Credit made it possible, that is the main thing. They made it possible for a first-generation farmer.”

Steve and his wife Wendy co-signed the loan for Vess and his wife Anna and daughter Paisley. Enthusiastic about the farm lifestyle his son has chosen, Steve wishes he could have done the same thing when he was younger. Even so, he still has a chance to do more than co-sign the loan.  He expects to retire from state law enforcement in a couple of years and his plan is to work for his son. He currently covers for this son when Vess needs a vacation, and he is looking forward to spending more time helping the farm operation be successful.

In part 2, Ryan Bledsoe, lender with Carolina Farm Credit, shares details of the cash dividend program and its 30-plus-year history.

By Leah Chester-Davis