“Georgia’s leading economic driver is agriculture. It is a natural fit. We have SBDC consultants throughout the state who understand the unique aspects of the agricultural industry.”– Walt Moore
As a third generation farmer, Walt Moore brings part of his family’s history to his job as a business consultant.
Before joining the University of Georgia (UGA) Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Valdosta State University in 2015, Moore had eight years of experience as a consumer and commercial lender. With his financial expertise and a lifetime of farming experience, Moore is an advocate for farmers and agribusiness owners.
“I grew up on a farm, and I am still a farmer,” said Moore, who grows blueberries in Lanier County. “I understand both the technical and emotional side of farming.”
As part of the SBDC agricultural team, Moore works in collaboration with other consultants across the state that are focused on assisting farmers and agribusiness owners.
“Georgia’s leading economic driver is agriculture,” said Moore about the state’s $74.9 billion agriculture industry. “It is a natural fit. We have SBDC consultants throughout the state who understand the unique aspects of the agricultural industry.”
Bill Boone, an SBDC entrepreneur development specialist, said the concept of having a specialized team of agricultural consultants was developed to help raise awareness of the economic importance of agriculture in Georgia.
“The SBDC has been helping farmers and agribusinesses for years,” Boone said. “What we are doing with the team is expanding that outreach.”
Members of the SBDC agricultural team understand the unique challenges and opportunities facing farmers and agribusiness owners.
“There are a lot of similarities in businesses, but there are also some major differences,” Boone said. “We speak ag, and we understand the unique challenges that farmers and agribusiness owners face. Our goal is to help them succeed.”
The SBDC has 17 offices located across Georgia that provide business planning, assistance in preparing a loan proposal and financial projections, accounting, marketing, and succession planning.
“We work with a lot of clients, but no two are the same,” Moore said. “When I get a call or a referral, the first thing I do is go to the farm or business. I want to see their operation and find out exactly where they need help, and then I tailor a program that meets their needs.”
With the resources of UGA and other state agencies, Moore is able to address many of the challenges facing farmers and business owners.
“If I go out to a farm and see there is a problem with insects or weeds,” said Moore, “than I am going to connect them with the local extension agent or find someone at UGA who is researching that area.”
Securing a loan can be a significant obstacle facing farmers. “If a farmer has had a couple of bad years, they might need assistance in getting a loan,” Moore said. “The SBDC does not provide loans; however, we can help navigate the process.”
The steps involved in obtaining an agricultural loan have changed dramatically in the past five to 10 years.
“Since the recession, more banks are requiring farmers to have a business plan before they can refinance or get a new loan,” said Moore, who has a bachelor and master’s degree in finance. “For a farmer, this can be a challenging task and preparing all the financial documents or helping write a business plan are two areas where the SBDC can assist.”
In the past five years, the SBDC has assisted in securing more than $47 million in agricultural loans in Georgia.
“It’s not just farming,” Moore said, “there are packing sheds, buying points, agritourism, and value-added products.”
In Georgia, agritourism and value-added businesses are expanding rapidly.
“SBDC consultants have helped agritourism businesses across the state from wine vineyards to u-pick farms,” Moore said. “With value-added products, the farmer might want to take blueberries and start making jams or jellies. There is a state grant available each year to help start this type of business.”
SBDC consultants can assist with the grant application, as well as provide marketing and distribution advice.
“SBDC consultants are here to work with farmers and other business owners to determine the next step and where we can help,” Moore said. “The best part of my job is not only watching an existing business overcome whatever obstacle they are facing and succeed but also seeing a new business start and continue to grow.”
For more information, visit the UGA SBDC at Valdosta State University at valdosta.edu/colleges/business/small-business-development-center/