Julie Wheelock

Savings Incentive Program Coordinator

A lifelong Iowan, Julie Wheelock was born and raised in northwest Iowa on a small row crop/livestock farm. Early on she developed a desire to find unique ways to integrate profitable production methods with environmentally sound practices. Julie went on to graduate from Iowa State University in 2001 with a degree in Animal Science and a minor in Agronomy. Following graduation, Julie worked for an agricultural and environmental consulting company where she led a project in the Loess Hills that used goats as a means of biological control of unwanted vegetation. Over the past 13 years, the Wheelock family has also enjoyed raising hogs for Niman Ranch, growing a pasture lambing system, developing a grass based poultry enterprise, and she and her husband have worked hard to build their own small trucking company.

Julie and Ryan have three children, Eli, Adlen, and Sadie. She enjoys running, healthy cooking, reading, and any activities with her family. In 2014, Julie joined Practical Farmers of Iowa after attending several of their field days and conferences. Her responsibilities consist of managing the Savings Incentive Program aspect of the Beginning Farmer Program. She provides one-on-one work with participants to ensure they are meeting program requirements and offers support in other areas of the program as needed.

Blog posts

What exactly is behind the “Incentive” of the Savings Incentive Program? As the name implies, beginning farmers enrolled in the program are encouraged to make regular deposits into a savings accounts with the incentive of receiving a 1:1 match on money saved – up to $2400 – for a potential lump sum of $4800 to be used towards a farm asset purchase. That’s a pretty good return on your dollar.

Think of the assets a farmer could buy with $4800…  By definition, an asset is anything an entity owns, benefits from, or has use of, in generating income. SIP graduates have purchased trailers, trucks, walk-in coolers, breeding livestock, tractor implements, water systems, high tunnels, farmland loan payments, fencing, tools, logo design, and more. These asset purchases have helped to make their farm business more efficient and profitable.


Upper Left: Ben Saunders, 2012 SIP graduate, used a portion of his SIP funds to purchase signage for his Wabi Sabi Farm. 

Upper Right: Nathan Anderson, 2012 SIP graduate, used his SIP funds to make a farmland loan payment.

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37 people gathered on a beautiful Friday afternoon at the Lipes Family Farm to hear how Greg and Katie Lipes got started with pastured-based farming. The Lipes’ had an interesting start to their business. Neither Greg nor Katie were born into farming – a situation that often makes it hard to break into the field. (Pun intended) It was during grad school and after a Farm Beginnings course the couple made the goal of becoming full time farmers. They started with 5 acres, off-farm jobs, reading everything they could about grass-fed beef, and learning on the go. It’s now 5 years and 3 beautiful little girls later. Greg and Katie are both on the farm full time. Their West Branch farm is 178 acres (1/2 pasture, ½ timber) and provides a space for their pasture-based beef, pork and poultry enterprises.


So how did they get there?

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If you’ve read Practical Farmers recent summer newsletter, you were able to meet a few landowners and landseekers who have registered on our FindAFarmer site. PFI staffer, Steve Carlson, also shared a success story from FindAFarmer, featuring landowner David Mitschelen and beginning farmer Rory Van Van Wyk. The unique thing about the site is the ability to share a story and farm vision. David had several interested parties of his land near Winterset, but through FindAFarmer, he was able to have a conversation with Rory and find out the two had similar interests for the land. “Rory looked at the farm the same way I was looking at it, with the possibilities of doing the same type of things I had dreamed of. In a way, he was living out my dream.”

We wanted to share more landowner/landseeker profiles in the newsletter, but just did not have the space! So here are a few more – and take the time to visit FindAFarmer and browse the list of landowners and landseekers to see if someone is a good match for your farm vision!

Ben Barron_2015 (1)

Ben participated in PFIs Labor4Learning program and is a current enrollee in PFIs Savings Incentive Program. He’s worked hard to gain skills and knowledge and is ready to take on land of his own.

Landseeker: Ben Barron

Desired land location: Greene County, open to other areas of Iowa

Enterprises of Interest: organic crops/livestock

Bio: Ben has farming experience from his family’s small farm and through working on a large conventional farm in Southeast Missouri. In 2014, he and his wife, Danielle moved to Jefferson, Iowa where he begin working at Shriver Farms through PFIs Labor4Learing program. (Ben is now a current enrollee of PFIs Savings Incentive Program.) Still employed by Shriver Farms, Ben also organically farms 21 acres on a crop share arrangement with two other landowners. He would like to farm at least another 20 acres of organic row crops, and plans to consider organic hog, beef or egg production for his future.

“Even though I’m a beginning farmer, I continually read and study to gain knowledge about farming. I’d like to work with a landowner who is willing to think outside-the-box, think organically.”

Contact Ben at: bjbfarm@gmail.com

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Dawn Anderson of Badger in Webster County, increased her farm business by 4800 bucks in two years. No, not by adding a bunch of male goats to her herd. Thanks to her diligent saving habits and commitment to the Savings Incentive Program, Dawn had SIP funds totaling $4800 and used them to purchase a truck and trailer to haul her goats.

I had the opportunity to visit Dawn at her farm this week. She currently has 26 Boer goats on her 2 acre farm and markets the majority of them as breeding stock through Craigs List and Facebook. While her friendly goats curiously nibbled at my notebook, we discussed how participating in SIP helped encourage her as a farmer.

Dawn Anderson (4)

Dawn’s goats were happy to be part of the interview.


“My mentors, Cheryl & Mike Hopkins, were top-notch. I think that was the best part of the program – being able to visit my mentor’s farm. I got to see first-hand how well thought-out their farm is and how efficient they are with their goat business.”


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A PFI beginning farmer recently asked a great question: “How can I use my business plan?” The process of writing a business plan can be overwhelming and may appear not worth the time. I can’t disagree that it may seem overwhelming, but it certainly isn’t in vain. Putting time and effort into crafting a quality plan not only makes your business stronger, you’ve also created a valuable tool with so many uses!

Five Uses For Your Business Plan:

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Got taxes on your mind? Watch this PFI recorded farminar to learn a few helpful hints about being prepared and ready for tax time including:

  • use a knowledgeable adviser to help take advantage of tax credits for farmers
  • hints about using good record keeping to make tax season less overwhelming
  • understand accounting techniques to realize how profitable your farm is
  • sensible depreciation decisions


Watch Tax Preparation Training for Farmers Now!

Mukiza Gehatano, Narad Bastola, Congera Alex, Bizimana Charles, Angelique Hakuzimana, Ta Kaw Paw, Bucumi Simon – all refugees and enrollees of PFIs Savings Incentive Program, came to the United States to escape war and hardship in their homelands. They brought with them a wide range of experiences and skills, but a common desire to continue food production for themselves and others. These seven Lutheran Service in Iowa refugee farmers, along with their mentors and The Farming Institute, took an important step towards realizing their farm goals. They started putting together a plan.

The Farming Institute gets down to business planning with Lutheran Services in Iowa enrollees of PFIs Savings Incentive Program.

The Farming Institute gets down to business planning with Lutheran Services in Iowa enrollees of PFIs Savings Incentive Program.

PFI partnered with Dick Schwab, Susan Jutz and Kate Edwards of The Farming Institute to develop a two day business planning workshop specific for LSI farmers in SIP. Well aware of the multitude of life circumstances and available resources that can support or complicate a farm’s success, TFI developed a workshop to dig into all aspects of these farmer’s lives and determine areas where work was needed to improve likelihood of achieving realistic farm goals. The end result of the workshop was to develop an action plan to start taking the necessary steps to reach desired goals.

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Starting a farm business can be challenging, fulfilling, emotionally and physically exhausting, scary, stressful, satisfying and rewarding. So why do it? Why is there that strong pull to start farming? Maybe it’s about making a long time dream a reality. It could be the satisfaction from sharing the fruits of your labor with your customers. Possibly it’s the love of working with the gifts of nature.

But show me the money.

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We are quickly getting the new 2016 Savings Incentive Program Class through the enrollment process. Next step, mentor matching! Current SIP participants have told me over and over that the mentoring part of the program has been the most beneficial aspect. Learning from someone else’s successes and challenges can save a new farmer seasons of trial and error.  This equates to a higher likelihood of a profitable, solid farm business. Mentors – new farmers are eager and thirsty for your knowledge!

Beginning farmer mentor

Learning from a mentor can save a beginning farmer seasons of trial and error.

What’s involved in becoming a mentor? SIP participants and mentors will be responsible for communicating and setting up three meetings during year one of the program; one meeting at the mentor’s farm, one meeting at the beginning farmer’s farm, and one meeting at a place of their choice. During these meetings, mentors are asked to freely share information and advice that can help beginning farmers get off on the right foot with their farm business.

Gary Guthrie

Gary Guthrie was able to pay it forward to the beginning farmers he mentored. As beginning farmers transition to experienced farmers, they are encouraged to do the same.

Gary Guthrie of Growing Harmony Farm in Nevada has served as a mentor for our Savings Incentive Program for a couple of participants.  “It’s been exciting to see these beginning farmers succeed and be able to avoid some of the problems I faced when I started. With my experience, it’s nice to assure them when challenges do come up that they will get through it, don’t worry.”  Gary also enjoys the chance to stay involved with beginning farmers.  “At my stage in life, being a mentor keeps me young. I like being involved to share my knowledge and support those that are starting out. I will continue to be a mentor and stay in touch with those I have worked with for as long as I can. It’s my chance to pay-it-forward.”

Andy and Melissa Dunham of Grinnell Heritage Farm echoed Gary thoughts. “We’ve been SIP mentors twice and we’ve learned that beginning farmers all have different farm plans and are looking to get something different out of their SIP experiences.  We feel fortunate to be able to pay-it-forward because a number of Wisconsin growers helped us by giving time and advice as we grew.”

PFI staff works hard to make a complementary mentor match based upon the beginning farmers’ enterprises, needs and location. We try to keep travel time between the mentor’s and mentee’s farm to not more than an hour. However, mentor’s are compensated for their time and travel.

beginning farmer mentor_3

Connecting with mentors keeps beginners excited to keep learning and moving forward.

Rory Van Wyk, a 2015 SIP participant feels the mentoring side of the program keeps him motivated to try new things and continue learning. “It’s been great to connect with another farmer who has years of experience and still has a desire to learn. PFI members have an excitement to accept new challenges and gain from them. Getting to know my mentor has shown me that.”

Rory hit it right on with that. I submitted a request for mentor volunteers on our discussion list last week and within ten minutes I had four responses of experienced farmers who wanted to be part of the program.  PFI members, I am proud to be part of a group that is genuinely supportive and enthusiastic about a new farmer’s success!

If you are interested in becoming mentor for our Savings Incentive Program, please call me (712)830-2402 or shoot me an email at julie@practicalfarmers.org. Include your name, location, and enterprises with which you have experience. Thank you!


Absolutely WORTH IT!  But anything that’s worth it, comes with some effort.  Tyler Magnuson, a beginning farmer in PFI and a current enrollee of our Savings Incentive Program, has first hand experience with USDA’s microloan program.  He was approved for a $10,000 loan at about 2% interest.  The loan will cost him around $200 and he has seven years to repay it.  Not too shabby.

Caitie and Tyler_edited

Tyler and Caitie at their Botna Burrow Farm in Pottawattamie county.

While the actual loan process wasn’t difficult, it did take some time and preparation.  Along with his microloan application, Tyler put together a whole farm plan, budget for his CSA, and brought in verification of CSA shares sold so the loan officer knew he was serious and profitable with his farm business.  Tyler and his partner Caitie are beginning farmers, working hard at paying off student loans and building credit.  However, they were still asked to provide collateral as security for the loan.  It is in the interest of the USDA to help out beginning farmers, but they have to cover their own tail too.

Tyler said the way the loan works is he had to to list what he intended to purchase with the money on the application.  (It’s possible to change what you plan to purchase, but there’s paperwork involved, so best to be sure what you want when you put it in writing.)  When Tyler’s purchases were made, he notified his loan officer, provided a proof of purchase and then received the money within 2-5 days.  Put simply, the money is not there waiting in your account, you have to request the funds.

What advice does Tyler have for other beginning farmers considering applying for a microloan?  He had three easy tips:  Start early, be polite and be persistent.  He took several months to get information together for his application and actually submitted it in February.  He was approved in April – just in time for spring planting.  (He suggests submitting the application by December so funds are available well before the spring rush.)  His specific loan officer’s region covered four counties so time limitations were a challenge.  Although, once they were able to meet, Tyler said his loan officer was very willing to work with him and positive about getting him approved.  During that final month of waiting for approval, Tyler called his loan officer weekly to keep active in the approval process, always polite, but persistent.

Magnuson_Tyler tractor bought with microloan

New wheels Tyler bought using his microloan funds.

With the loan, Tyler purchased a tractor, implements and a walk-cooler.  All items that will undoubtedly return him more than the $200 price of the microloan.

If you have more questions about mircoloans, please stop in at your local FSA office.  Loan requirements have recently been improved for beginning farmers and the maximum amount has been increased to $50,000.

Tyler Maguson and Caitie Caughey operate a CSA on their Botna Burrow farm in Pottawattamie county.  You are also welcome to contact Tyler at botnaburrow@gmail.com if you want more information from someone who has gone through the process!