Although the latest USDA Census of Agriculture shows there are 3,218 agricultural operations on Indian reservations in South Dakota, only 924 – less than a third – are actually Native American-owned. Lakota Funds, a nonprofit organization, is working to increase that number by supporting Native American farmers and ranchers through their agricultural business program.
A major barrier to starting or expanding any type of business is lack of access to capital. This is especially true for agri-businesses, because of their large working capital needs. If you factor into the mix a business location that is on a reservation, finding a lender that will meet your financing needs can be nearly impossible.
This is a dilemma that Craig Lafferty (Rosebud Sioux), partner in Lafferty Family LLC, faced when he was looking to expand his cattle operation on the Rosebud Reservation.
“It just seemed like it was a closed door,” he says.
However, doors began to open when he reached out to Lakota Funds on a recommendation from family members.
“It’s just awesome from the time you walk in the door – a warm welcome. And, it’s Native-owned and operated. I can feel proud about that,” he says.
To date, Lafferty Family LLC has utilized two loans from Lakota Funds to grow their Red Angus / Charolais operation to 200 head.
“The great thing about this is that the Lafferty’s are building assets and building an operation that will be passed on for generations,” says Tawney Brunsch, Executive Director of Lakota Funds.
Craig’s business partner is his father, Rock Lafferty, who is now retired after a 33-year career at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Craig’s two sons, Taylor (9 years old) and Harper (22 months old), are also involved.
“Ranching has always been in the family. It’s in my roots,” says Lafferty.
He explains that he and his dad are doing all of the hard work now with the intention of passing the business onto his sons.
“But only if they want it,” he says.
As the Director of Radiology at Indian Health Services in Mission, South Dakota – his day job – Lafferty recognizes the value of education. He stresses the importance of getting an education first to his sons.
“You’re not going to be a millionaire in the ranching business – you’re just not. For me it’s time to spend with my dad and boys out in nature,” Lafferty says. At their operation where everything is done on horseback, he gets lots of time to do just that.
Lafferty feels lucky that “Lakota Funds believed in us enough to take a chance.” He is grateful for the relationship he has with his lender and wants to keep building his operation.
For the moment, he is satisfied that he has “created good memories for my boys that they can pass down to my grandkids.”