How FarmRaise Is Helping Farmers Break Financial Barriers

Image sourced from Defika Hendri on Unsplash

Image sourced from Defika Hendri on Unsplash


Agritecture sat down with Sami Tellatin, Co-Founder and COO of FarmRaise, prior to Agritecture Xchange. Sami will be speaking on the panel, Regenerative Agriculture: Deep Dive.

Meet Sami Tellatin at Agritecture Xchange - Register today! 

Tell us a little about yourself! What sparked your interest in the field of agriculture and led you to co-found FarmRaise?

Agriculture became an interest of mine in college. My junior year, I was discerning which career path would best allow me to work towards mitigating climate change when an incredible summer internship on a biodynamic farm in Costa Rica steered me towards agriculture. The owners of the farm (called Finca Luna Nueva) exposed me to the science behind soil carbon sequestration, and I was immediately filled with hope (a rare feeling given the immensity of this environmental challenge!). 

I then worked on some diversified farms in Missouri after graduation and accepted a position with the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program to analyze the impacts of soil health practices like cover crops on agricultural landscapes and businesses across the Midwest. This role brought me close to farmers and allowed me to see the challenges farmers face in adapting soil health systems. I became determined to support farmers across the US in adopting these practices and becoming more resilient, profitable, and sustainable. That’s what FarmRaise is all about: tackling the financial barrier farmers face in adopting new practices and building profitable businesses that last generations.

Image sourced from FarmRaise

Image sourced from FarmRaise

What can we expect to hear about in your intervention at the “Regenerative Agriculture Deep Dive” panel?

Our team has been hard at work listening to farmers and mapping the farm grant funding landscape for the past year. I’m looking forward to sharing with you our learnings and insights on the types of financial support farmers need and the sources available to them. Regenerative agriculture is such a promising societal endeavor, and we need to make sure to thoroughly support farmers in making the transition. I hope to share some insights relevant to both farmers and their advocates about how to best navigate the financial journey towards soil health and regenerative agriculture.

What limitations/challenges have you seen the current financing landscape create for farmers? Why do you believe it’s important to educate and aid farmers in this aspect?

Farmers face two main challenges on the financing front: information about various opportunities is fragmented and not always up-to-date; and, applying to funding programs is time-consuming and confusing. Farmers come to our platform daily to gain clarity on what they’re eligible for and how to apply.

There’s no “one-size fits all” funding answer - each farm has unique needs and goals, and must therefore chart its own path. Farmers need to feel empowered and supported to tackle this important aspect of their operation, rather than beaten down by hours spent calling different offices and googling options. 

Empowered farmers enabled by supportive financial planning and funding options will be able to make smart, proactive decisions about how they manage their land and produce the resources we all benefit from. That is why this work is so important. 

Image sourced from FarmRaise

Image sourced from FarmRaise

In your experience, how have farmers been challenged financially and otherwise during this pandemic? How does the current Covid-related agricultural landscape compare to that of the past?

Farmers are certainly facing their fair share of challenges during this pandemic, but some challenges have been more welcome than others. While some grain and livestock producers have been hit particularly hard by processing and distribution disruptions and price declines, small-scale and locally-oriented farmers are seeing boosts in demand that they aren’t able to meet. 

This time is difficult for farmers because it’s not really a business that lends itself to cash balances. I can’t count the number of times farmers have told me that “a farmer is asset rich and cash poor.” So, during times like this when cash is needed to weather the market disruptions caused by the pandemic, farmers are particularly vulnerable. 

The USDA has made billions of dollars available to support farmers during this time, through its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), which originally was supposed to expire this month but was renewed through the end of the year. Farmers can apply at any time, and usually receive a check in the mail to compensate them for Covid-related disruptions within two weeks. We’ve helped many farmers apply to CFAP, and though the program has received some criticism, it’s been nice to have this lifeline to refer farmers to if they need it. 

SBA loans and other employer loan programs have also been helpful to farmers during this time. 

What will agriculture look like after Covid, given that so many farmers have had to rethink their business and marketing strategies?

Only time will tell, but I imagine there will be a renewed interest and energy around locally produced meat and vegetables for some time yet, especially with increased digital and online infrastructure to support local sales.

For farmers, I’ll say this: Hang tight, get creative, and take some time to hunker down if you’re feeling the strain of this time. I know the farm doesn’t wait - animals need your time and attention every day, and those crops in the ground are on a schedule you can’t change. But if you do have a breath of fresh air in the midst of all of this, make sure to reach out to the people that provide you with community and support, and maybe put your heads together to reflect on the lessons of this time. What’s working on the farm right now? Double-down on that. 

I’ll also add that our team is working hard to investigate and expose the relationship between various practices - like cover cropping - and farm finances. At FarmRaise, the future of farming is all about increasing farm profitability, and one key way to do that is through investing in soil health. If farmers are more profitable, they will have more cash available to save up and have on reserve for times like this. We’re working to understand just which practices and business principles are most effective at ensuring farm profitability - so stay tuned. 

How has the process of aiding farmers with federal and local grants been for you during these unprecedented times? Do you think there is a stronger need for such work given the growing agricultural challenges?

There is an endless amount of work to do in connecting farmers with funding opportunities - researching the landscape, speaking with unconventional funders (like impact-oriented lenders and grantmakers), and helping farmers manage deadlines and apply (let alone building tools that help facilitate this process, too!). It’s been incredibly fulfilling! We speak with farmers every day, which is highly motivating for our team and makes all of the hard work worth it.


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