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State wants to lend directly to small or beginning farmers

PIERRE — South Dakota Department of Agriculture officials want authority to loan money directly from state government to small or beginning farmers.

The definition of a small or beginning farmer also would be expanded to be a person who has minimal net worth, is under the age of 40 or has been farming less than five years. Currently the department must use a local lender such as a bank or a credit union.

"Since January of 2015, we have made 19 loans for a total of just under $4 million," Maggie Stensaas, a department spokeswoman, said. The department would have flexibility to set interest rates on the direct loans, she said.

Producers also would be allowed to purchase livestock. Those loans are in a separate program now. They are among 70 pages of proposed additions and repeals scheduled for a public hearing Monday, Aug. 6. The proposals are available at https://bit.ly/2LRQvj7.

The 10 a.m. CT hearing is at Matthew Training Center, 523 E. Capitol Avenue, in Pierre. Written comments must be received no later than Aug. 16 at the department's Division of Ag Development. The zip code is 57501.

Among other changes, soil conservation commissions could borrow up to $100,000 for equipment. The current limit is $30,000.