Ask the Expert: A Q&A on Youth Loans with Tina Mellinger

In this Ask the Expert, Tina Mellinger answers questions about Farm Service Agency (FSA) Youth Loans. Tina is a Farm Loan Manager in Ohio and has worked for FSA for 37 years. Her FSA farm loan team makes an average of around 50 loans each year, with around five of those being Youth Loans. Her entire career has been centered around loan-making. At the beginning of her career, she worked for Rural Development making home loans.

Tina grew up on a 50-cow dairy farm in southeastern Ohio. She earned an animal science and ag education degree from the Ohio State University. 

Three people standing with a calf
Tina recently made a farm visit to see two of her youth loan borrowers, Maddox and Knox. 

What is the purpose of an FSA Youth Loan? 

FSA youth loans provide an educational learning experience that enhances the borrower’s knowledge into the world of financial responsibility.  This is a great learning opportunity to help youth understand the financial side of their agriculture project with the goal of generating a profit.

We see a lot of youth loans used to finance 4-H or FFA livestock projects and related supplies. Some projects are focused on raising breeding stock to build a cow, sheep, hog, or other type of livestock operation and these are our longer-term projects. 

Two of my current borrowers in Ohio, Knox and Maddox, are both using the FSA Youth Loan to grow their beef cattle operations. They both raise registered Hereford cattle and make a profit selling freezer beef and show calves. They used youth loans to finance improvements to their operation, which included fence materials, automatic water systems, feed bunks, round bale feeders and a treatment chute. Together, they have 38 head of cattle.

In Lafayette, Louisiana, Trinity Waguespack, an 11-year-old urban farmer, is using a Youth Loan to finance her hydroponic garden. What started as a school project led to Trinity using a youth loan to purchase three 30-grow-capacity garden towers. Trinity grows lettuce that she sells to her friends, family members, and locally by word of mouth. Through precision agriculture and artificial intelligence technology, the towers notify her when the lettuce needs water, even when she’s at swim practice.

Person holding a box of lettuce
Trinity Waguespack, an 11-year-old urban farmer in Louisiana. Photo courtesy of the Waguespack family.  

Who is eligible to apply? 

Anyone from the age of 10 to 20 who participates in an agricultural affiliated group like 4-H, FFA, Tribal youth organizations or similar groups can apply. 

What are the project requirements?

The project must be related to agriculture and must be income producing. The participant needs the support of an organization advisor to assist with the educational aspect of the project. The project plan must show there is enough income being generated to repay the loan.

FSA Youth Loans can be used for a variety of agricultural projects. Reach out to your local FSA farm loan team to see if your project is eligible.

Do I need a co-signer?

A co-signer is only needed if the project shows possible difficulty in repaying the loan or does not meet security requirements. 

A parent or legal guardian must consent to the loan application. The youth loan borrower is personally responsible for repaying the loan. 

What is the maximum loan amount? 

We can finance youth loan projects up to $5,000. The participant could have more than one loan outstanding as long as the combined principal balance does not exceed $5,000. 

What are the repayment terms?

The repayment terms will vary depending on the type and purpose of the project. 

If the loan is to pay for market livestock and/or crops, including annual input costs, the loan term would be for one year. If the project is for purchasing equipment and/or breeding livestock, the term can be 1-7 years as it will take more time to generate income. 

How do I apply? 

You can apply at your local FSA office. You can download the Youth Loan application and refer to the Youth Loan Application Quick Guide for assistance. 

Is there an application fee? 

There is not an application fee; however, if the applicant is 18 or older they will be required to pay a credit report fee of $16.00. There will also be a fee to cover the recording of the lien instrument, commonly called a UCC (Uniform Commercial Code), and the fee varies by state. 

Where can I receive assistance with my application, if needed?

There is always a farm loan staff member in your area that is ready to assist in the application process, whether in the office or at the farm. The easiest way to find us is to visit and call your local USDA Service Center to speak with a farm loan representative. 

Where can I find more information?  

For more information, visit If you’re an FFA Advisor or 4-H leader and want to learn more, reach out to your local FSA farm loan staff to set up a Youth Loan presentation at one of your upcoming meetings. 


Tina Mellinger is a Farm Loan Manager for FSA in Ohio. She can be reached at