MARK LOPEZ - Realizing His Dream of Becoming a Farmer
Mark Lopez became a first-time farmer and customer of Golden State Farm Credit (GSFC) in 2018. He found breaking into agriculture to be challenging because of elevated land prices, high start-up costs, and limited access to capital. Luckily, he never gave up and was able to purchase 36 acres of French Colombard grapes in Fresno County. His struggles are a common occurrence in today’s agricultural industry.
Mark’s exposure to farming began on his grandparent’s farm on his mother’s side. Upon graduating from high school, he attended California State University, Fresno, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Business. After graduation, he began working on his uncle’s fruit trees and raisin vineyards. Mark tried to take the next logical step and purchase his own operation. Unfortunately, he found it difficult to obtain financing and was unable to move forward with his plan.
Mark is part of a select group of people classified as a “beginning farmer” by the USDA. The USDA describes a beginning farmer or rancher, as an individual or entity who has not operated a farm or ranch for more than 10 consecutive years. The reason for this special designation is because of the rising average age of U.S. farmers, and the need to sustain agriculture by providing opportunities to assist the next generation gain access to funds and resources.
Over the years, Mark’s jobs took him away from farming. He eventually opened his own equipment repair business. Being a successful small business owner wasn’t enough, he longed to return to farming. When asked why he enjoys farming he smiles and says, “It’s hard to describe.” He goes on to say, “I enjoy the independence.” Although, he does admit when you own a farm all else comes second. He looks at farming as a way of life – providing him the opportunity to build equity and gain wealth.
In 2018, a friend told Mark of a vineyard that was for sale. Mark made the decision to purchase the land. Mark applied to the specialized financial programs at the Farm Service Agency, but there were certain parameters he did not meet. Mark was tenacious and did not give up. He continued to look for ways to move forward with the purchase. Thankfully, with the help of a friend, and GSFC’s Tomorrow’s Farmer loan program, he was able to realize his dream and buy the property.
Associations within the Farm Credit system have made it their mission to provide Young, Beginning, and Small (YBS) agriculturalists access to credit. Through the YBS program, borrowers must be 35 years or younger to be eligible. This was one of the requirements Mark did not meet when looking for financing. GSFC created the Tomorrow’s Farmer loan program, without age restrictions, to provide an alternative source of funding for growers like Mark.
Mark’s life is full. His time is split between his wife, three kids, the repair business, commercial grape harvesting, and the vineyard. With the help of GSFC, Mark’s first harvest was exceptional and he hopes future harvests continue to be bountiful. Should the right opportunity come along, Mark is open to expansion with the help of GSFC.