by Lauren Moore, FSA Public Affairs Specialist
Elizabeth “Lizzi” Neal’s passion for farming can be credited to her middle school agriculture teacher and a pig named Marmaduke.
Neal purchased Marmaduke, a crossbred market barrow, as her first show animal when she was in sixth grade at Perry Middle School in Perry, Georgia. Soon after, she became involved in various events and competitions.
During her freshman year of high school, she applied for a Farm Service Agency (FSA) youth loan to help with her new endeavor of showing cattle. Now a senior in high school, she is on her fourth and final youth loan.
“Without the loan, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve one of my biggest dreams, which was to show at the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Kentucky,” she said.
Through youth loans, FSA helps to start and operate income-producing projects of modest size in connection with their participation in 4-H clubs, National FFA Organization, a Tribal youth group, or similar agricultural youth organization. For the project to be financed, the loan needs to provide an opportunity for the applicant to gain experience and education in agriculture-related skills.
“Purchasing, raising, and exhibiting livestock comes at a high expense, but the youth loan program allows students to create a strong financial foundation in order to maintain and participate in a livestock project,” said Neal. “The youth loan gives individuals the opportunity to become a part of something that they otherwise wouldn’t be financially able to while instilling in them a strong work ethic, responsibility and financial management.”
Neal and a few of her exhibitor peers keep their livestock at the Perry High School Farm. The school farm gives students access to needed resources, such as water supply, sheltered pens and outdoor pastures for each animal.
“It also gives me the opportunity to interact with my peers,” she said. “During the school day, students in agriculture classes travel to the school farm, which allows the calves to have a greater amount of interaction, as well as gives us exhibitors the time to work on our showmanship skills with guidance provided by our advisors.”
Neal has been an active member of FFA for seven years, serving as the 2016-2017 secretary of the Georgia FFA state chapter and as the student advisor of her high school FFA. Neal plans to attend Oklahoma State University in the fall to double major in agriculture communications and animal science. She hopes to one day operate her own herd of cattle.
“By having the youth loan, I’ve learned more about financial management than any sport would ever teach me,” she said. “Rather than just being responsible for an animal, I now have the task of managing a budget which will allow me repay the loan the following year. I feel that this responsibility will benefit my future on a variety of levels.”