For beginning or aspiring farmers, a few thousand dollars in start-up cash, an experienced mentor and support network, and a solid business plan can be the keys to a successful farm start-up.

Practical Farmers of Iowa offers all of these to participants in their two-year Savings Incentive Program. Applications for this competitive program only open once a year, and must be submitted by Nov. 11 using the online form found at Those admitted will begin the program in early 2018 and graduate in late 2019. Applications will be evaluated by a committee of Practical Farmers members using a scoring system that rewards a noticeable commitment to developing applicants’ independent farming goals.

The Savings Incentive Program works by encouraging enrollees to save $100 per month for two years. After 24 months and completion of all program requirements, participants earn a dollar-for-dollar match on money saved up to $2,400, for a possible $4,800 that may be used to help purchase a farm asset. Participants are also paired with an experienced farm mentor, connected with a network of farming peers and learning opportunities, and receive help creating a farm business plan. To date, the program has served 127 individuals on their path to establishing a successful farm business.

“I applied for the Savings Incentive Program and was matched with a mentor, Gary Guthrie, and we worked through all the main steps of coming up with a business plan and all of the financial planning for a farm,” said Julia Slocum of Lacewing Acres in Ames. In addition to benefiting from her mentor relationship, Julia’s farmer network has grown to be an important part of her success as well. “I think [having a network] gives you a lot of really good ideas and also relieves a lot of that beginning farmer pressure that there’s a right way to do things. Seeing all of these experienced people doing things in different ways was really important to know that I was going to find my own path.”

Requirements: As part of the program, participants are paired with a mentor, with whom they must meet in person at least three times in the first year. Participants also:

• Open and manage a savings account

• Meet at least one time in person with a business plan reviewer

• Meet at least three times with an assigned mentor; once at beginner’s farm, once at the mentor’s farm and once at a place of their choosing

• Create or fine-tune a business or whole-farm plan

• Attend at least four PFI events per year. PFI events include online training, field days, conferences, workshops and more

• Conduct quarterly reviews with PFI staff to check on progress toward goals and program requirements

• Complete all forms and requested information on time

Eligibility: Applicants must either be farming on their own now and have farmed for five or fewer years; or they must have some experience working for a farm business. This includes, but is not limited to: internships, apprenticeships, working as an hourly or salaried employee, or working on the family farm.

Applicants must also be members of Practical Farmers of Iowa, and either reside or farm in Iowa. Those who are not members can join at or by calling (515) 232-5661. For questions about the Savings Incentive Program or application process, contact Greg Padget at or 515-232-5661.