2016 Agriculture Appropriations: An Update

photo 3 copy 2

By Eric Hansen, NYFC Policy Analyst 

Earlier this month, Congress reached a major milestone in its annual appropriations process, which funds the federal government. Both the relevant committees in the House and the Senate passed funding bills for the Department of Agriculture. These bills set spending levels for conservation programs and farm loans and include “policy riders” that alter Farm Bill programs.

The Appropriations Process
Each year, Congress must pass spending bills that fund the federal government. The government works on a fiscal calendar that begins on Oct 1st. This means Congress needs to pass new legislation before Sept 30th or face a government shutdown.

Congress divides government operations in 12 substantive areas—such as agriculture; interior and the environment; and defense—and writes one bill for each area. In both the House and the Senate, the agriculture bill is written by a small group of legislators who sit on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. These are often different legislators than those who wrote the Farm Bill.

Once the subcommittee writes the bill, it is considered by the full Appropriations Committee. So far this year, both the full Committees in the House and the Senate have approved their respective bills. Next, the bills should be up for a vote before the full House and Senate. Once amended and approved, the bills will be “conferenced” between the two chambers, and once a joint bill is approved it will go to the President for his signature.

What’s in and what’s out
While this year’s spending bills are by no means final, the Committee drafts provide a pretty clear picture of where things are headed. Overall, funding is down compared to last year. This was expected in a Republican-controlled Congress; however, it has made it harder to secure funding for new programs and initiatives.

There are a few bright spots in the bills:

  • The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) has been fully funded at $450 million. This program funds farmland conservation easements – a key piece of NYFC’s land access work.
  • Last year’s historic increase in Farm Ownership Loan funds and Farm Operating Loan funds has been maintained. In past years, USDA’s Farm Service Agency has run out of loan funds mid-year. This increased funding level has ensured that loans are available to all farmers that qualify.
  • The so-called “GIPSA Rider” was removed from the bill. Since 2011, this provision has prevented USDA from finalizing rules that provide important protections for contract livestock farmers. Next year, USDA will finally be able to put these protections in place.

Sean feeding chickens in hoop house

Unfortunately, a few important programs have gone unfunded:

  • Once again, Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Accounts have remained unfunded. This program was first authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill, but Congress has never supplied the necessary funding to get it started.
  • This year USDA proposed creating a “New and Beginning Farmer Outreach Program,” which would help young farmers access the services that are already available to them, but underutilized, such as conservation programs and farm loans. NYFC has pushed USDA to create such a program, and we are very dismayed that Congress has not funded it.
  • USDA also requested funding for a “Customer Self-Service Portal,” which would allow farmers to access Farm Service Agency services like farm loans online. NYFC has been pushing USDA to provide this service as well. While Congress did not specifically set aside funding for this program, we hope that USDA will still prioritize this work within their overall information technology funding.

Finally, the House Appropriations Committee criticized USDA’s management of beginning farmer programs specifically and announced they would withhold additional funding until their concerns are addressed. While USDA is not doing enough to meet the needs of beginning farmers, withholding funding is not the best way to solve this. This language from the House sets a dangerous precedent and jeopardizes much of the work NYFC and others have been doing with USDA.

Up Next
It remains to be seen whether Congress will be able to finish the appropriations process before the end of September. Unfortunately, in Congress even a small road bump can have long-term effects on a bill.

With time running out, it is very unlikely that Congress will pass individual subject-specific bills. They may opt to pass an “omnibus” bill, which would use the current funding language but group all of the individual spending bills together for a single vote,. If Congress cannot get agreement on a single bill, they may use a continuing resolution, essentially an agreement to continue spending at the same levels as 2015. While a continuing resolution would still fully fund ACEP and farm loan programs, it would also mean the continuation of the GIPSA Rider for another year.

The veggie girl marries the meat man: Bootstrap at Old Homeplace Farm

maggie potatoes

By Maggie Bowling, Old Homeplace Farm

Some of my earliest memories involve playing in soybeans in the bed of a grain truck. I thought sliding around in the loose beans was the most fun a kid could have. My parents’ transitioned from raising row crops and running a small confinement hog barn to selling certified organic vegetables, cut flowers, eggs, and pastured broilers during my childhood. My parents instilled in their children that it was possible to make a living and a good life on the farm. They always paid us for our farm work, beginning when we were very small by paying us $0.10 for every little red wagon load of corn we pulled out to the roadside stand and stacked on the table. They strove to make work fun and would reward us with a swim in the creek after cultivating a bed of veggies or playtime in the woods after cleaning a set number of garlic heads. I don’t know how they did it, but their love for the land was transferred to us, and all three of their children are now farming as adults.

Growing up in rural Ohio, I loved my home, I loved my family, and I loved the farm, but I still felt the pull to see what else was in store for me. It never occurred to me that I didn’t have to attend college as the next step after high school graduation, and so the day after my eighteenth birthday I headed off to Earlham College in Indiana. A community service scholarship (Bonner Scholars) put me through college. By graduation I knew that my heart was called back to agriculture, and I accepted an AmeriCorps VISTA position with the Grow Appalachia program, which led to a full time position assisting gardeners in Eastern Kentucky.

Maggie-and-Nellie_garden-with_Mom

Young Maggie with her mother and sister on their family farm.

While I loved my job, my heart always longed for a farm of my own, and the year after college I pondered how I would ever reach that goal. My main concern was the need for a strong support system to share the trials and tribulations of farming. I knew I personally needed a partner to support me physically and emotionally because I recognized that farming is extremely tiring and trying. I knew my parents’ would make a place for me on their farm, or thought that maybe one of my siblings (both still is school at the time) would farm with me, or that maybe one of my friends would be a part of this dream. A few years working for Grow Appalachia seemed to be the best first step for me as I worked to save money, find a potential business partner, and figure out what the best steps toward a farming future would be.

Maggie and Will Summer 2014Six months after starting my job with Grow Appalachia, I attended the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) conference and met a handsome livestock farmer from Eastern Kentucky. We began dating later that year, and after a while I knew that I had found my co-farmer. With a few years of experience behind me, my student loans paid off, and Will by my side, I quit my job and started farming full time in 2014. As my friends say, “the veggie girl married the meat man” and we embarked on this journey.

While I hadn’t undergone any formal farm training, I felt fairly prepared to begin my venture thanks to my experience growing up on a vegetable farm and my time with Grow Appalachia. My family is always a phone call away, and I’ve met other vegetable farmers who are always willing to share stories. My brother has worked on farms across the country and has shared many different tricks and perspectives with me. Starting a new farming business is definitely difficult and full of trial and error. I’ve learned from books and conferences, but adapting practices to my own farm is a thing of its own. Will and I have been experimenting with new things over the past year and a half, with varying success. I have much to learn, and I just keep trying to improve while chalking up the mistakes to experience.

It is easy to get discouraged when it rains for weeks and my succession plantings are ruined or when equipment breaks and takes weeks to repair, but I try to stay positive and keep moving forward. I am producing food, and people are buying it. Next time I attend an agriculture conference and they ask all the farmers to raise their hands, I’ll be able to raise mine, and that’s what I’ve wanted to do for years. I’ve made it this far on the path to being a farmer, and I believe Will and I can make this business financially sustainable for the future.

“Nature boy” finds his calling – BOOTSTRAP AT EMADI ACRES FARM

Emadi_youngchicken_crop

By Derek Emadi, Emadi Acres

As far back as I can remember, one of the only places I felt peace as a hyperactive kid was on my grandparent’s property. Their land was located in a small town west of San Antonio, Texas. The town was small enough that my cousins, brother, and I could walk unescorted to various shops to browse their candy selections. We had so much freedom when we were there. Freedom from school, television, and parents! My impatient brain was able to focus and remain calm.

I knew pretty early in my life that when I became an adult I had to have a place just like my grandparents had. There we learned to fish the creek, catch grasshoppers for bait, shoot guns, absorb millions of mosquito bites without complaining, wrangle a rouge male goose, build fires … what more could kids ask for? My family loves to tell stories about us kids trying to ride goats rodeo-style and walk chickens on a leash. “Nature Boy” was one of the names my uncles gave me that I actually liked. Nature was where I wanted to be, and that hasn’t changed.

My mom’s side of the family wasn’t my only connection to nature. My brother and I never knew my dad’s father, but the older we got the more questions we had for our dad about his family. He told us stories about the farming life he left when he came to live in the States. My grandfather was a well-known, self-made farmer in his time. He had a large orchard near the Caspian Sea comprised of more than 20 hectares that are still in production; citrus rows as far as the eye could see. The thought of being able to grow my own fruit has stayed with me.

Emadi_DerekDonkey_cropI was a kid who didn’t know what I wanted to do for the longest time. In high school, I got really into psychology and decided to purse that degree in college. I graduated with my bachelors in psychology, but that path began to lose its luster. I hit a crossroads, not really knowing what I wanted to do. Getting back to my roots on the land and owning property still resonated in my heart.

My parents were both teachers, so I decided to give it a try. I began working with students who had behavioral and cognitive disabilities. People drop like flies in that field, so I saw it as a challenge. I loved the kids. The first couple of years I enjoyed my job, but the stress of a broken educational system, broken families, and the emptiness of not being appreciated wore me down.

I owe a lot to that job and the school I worked at. I met my wife there, discovered how patient I could be, and was gifted my first chickens. A parent donated eggs to hatch for the kids. I asked if I could have a few chicks. All of a sudden, we had babies to take care of, and there began the spark of my farming flame. Raising little chicks turned into growing tomatoes and then into buying fruit trees. When most folks discover the farming bug, it’s hard for them to contain their excitement. You begin learning about all the opportunities that are out there to grow your own food. Plus tasting the very first cherry tomato you grew all by yourself is enough to start a passion. At about the same time, my wife and I watched a documentary that helped change my life and gave me the direction the universe had planned for me.

As cheesy and cliché as it sounds, the film “Food Inc.” inspired a radical change in my human spirit. Once you learn about the revolting and manipulating American food system, it’s easy to make the switch to live a better, healthier lifestyle. A particular scene in the film shows a farmer, Joel Salatin, walking among his pigs. They were happy and healthy, and so was the farmer. At that moment I was hit with the thought that farming could be an attainable profession that was everything I wanted: having land, animals, and being in nature.

Joel Salatin has written many books including one that discusses valuable points for new farmers. He advises people to not begin with a large amount of debt. Before quitting my job, I began shedding my debt. I sold my beautiful truck that I loved, paid down all my student loans, and began saving money like a mad man. I didn’t want to quit my teaching job without some sort of cushion to get me through the initial phase of starting my farm.

To start a farm without any debt is near impossible, but to not burden your new venture with its weight creates a solid foundation.

This post is part of our Bootstrap Blog series, which follows four young farmers in their first or second year of running a farm. To read all the posts in this series, including past years, click here

New case studies highlight successful partnerships between farmers and land trusts

Finding affordable land continues to be one of the biggest barriers facing beginning farmers and ranchers. Land trusts, which have long preserved farmland from development, are in a unique position to help new farmers access land. As NYFC found in our 2013 report, Farmland Conservation 2.0, land trusts across the country are seeing the need to increase their efforts to keep farmland affordable and accessible to the next generation of farmers.

CA_Farmlink_Case-StudyOver the past year, NYFC has been working with land trust partners across the country to scale up innovative conservation models that permanently protect America’s working farmland and keep the land in the hands of farmers. NYFC is pleased to have partnered with California FarmLink on their recent publication, Conservation and Affordability of Working Lands: Nine Case Studies of Land Trusts Working with Next-Generation Farmers.

The case studies highlight the innovative tools and strategies land trusts are using to partner with young farmers and secure the working land base. Most of the case studies are from California, with two examples from Massachusetts and Washington State. Some of the featured land trusts own land that they lease back to farmers, in some cases incorporating the innovative “ground lease” model through which the organization owns the land and the farmer has a lifetime lease along with ownership of the infrastructure. Other case studies demonstrate the use of easement tools such as affirmative language (which requires the land to be in agricultural production) and the option to purchase at agricultural value (which helps ensure the land stays in the hands of a farmer when it is sold.)

NYFC is excited to host our second annual Land Access Innovations Training in Sacramento, California this fall to educate land trusts on these tools. For more information, contact our land access campaign manager, Holly Rippon-Butler. Check out the Equity Trust website for sample easements and leases.

Bootstrap at Furrow Horse Farm – Meet Caitlin

 Caitlin_Cultimulching_crop

Welcome to our 2015 Bootstrap Blog series! We’ve been introducing you to our four Bootstrap Bloggers, who are all in their first or second year of running a farm. Throughout the season, each Bootstrap Blogger will write about the highs and lows, glory moments and curveballs that come with farming.

 

My name is Caitlin Arnold, and I am a young farmer in Washington State. This year I’m celebrating my tenth year of farming and my first year of running my own farm business! I have been working on small, organic vegetable farms in Washington, Oregon, and California since 2005, and this season my partner, Brandon Wickes, and I are launching Furrow Horse Farm, our draft-horse powered, organic vegetable and cut-flower operation.

My Grandpa grew cherries and apples in eastern Washington, and as a kid I spent many weekends with him at the farm, riding the tractor around the orchard as he did chores and making mud pies in the irrigation ditches. But I grew up in Seattle and was a total city kid, aside from my obsession with horses (as most young girls experience at one point or another).

Caitlin_market_cropI began riding on the weekends for a few years, and then resumed riding as an adult once I started farming and living in rural areas. I never considered farming with draft horses, as it seemed to add another layer of complication to an already difficult job. However once Brandon and I met and started farming together, his interest in farming with horses began to rub off on me. I agreed to apprentice for a season on a draft-horse powered farm before making the decision to farm with horses on our own.

Just a few weeks into the apprenticeship, I was hooked. Working in the field with the horses is such a unique experience, unlike any other, and now I can’t imagine farming without them. They become friends, co-workers, and partners.

Brandon and I spent the 2014 season as apprentices at Orchard Hill Farm in Ontario, Canada, specifically to learn the skills we needed to run a horse-powered market garden. We knew we wanted to return to Washington, so we started looking for property to lease with the help of Washington Farmlink. Eventually we found a retired couple with an extra house and acreage on their 44-acre beef cattle operation near Morton, Washington.

Although we didn’t know anyone in the Morton area, we took the plunge and began leasing in January. We were able to till up about two acres in February and get a deer fence up. Vegetables have never been grown on this part of the farm, so we went from straight pasture to garden. The grass has proven a big challenge so far, as has the lack of infrastructure. But at least our house is only 50 yards from the farm entrance!

Neither of us brings inherited wealth or land to the table of our farming venture, and we both have student loans. Funding has been tricky to work out. We applied for a Kiva Zip loan through the Greenhorns, and were able to get it fully funded in less than 24 hours. In March, we also applied for a farm grant through the Humanlinks Foundation based in Seattle. Amazingly, we were awarded enough money to buy our first team of draft horses and the basic equipment we needed to get started! Now we have begun the search for the team of horses we’ll bring to Morton.

I am looking forward to sharing my farming experiences with the greater farmer community throughout the country.! It is an honor to represent the National Young Farmers Coalition in this way.

Our farm website is furrowhorsefarm.com, and you can also find us on Facebook.

Bootstrap at Emadi Acres Farm – Meet Derek

Emaldi_tomatoes_crop

Welcome to our 2015 Bootstrap Blog series! We’ve been introducing you to our four Bootstrap Bloggers, who are all in their first or second year of running a farm. Throughout the season, each Bootstrap Blogger will write about the highs and lows, glory moments and curveballs that come with farming.


The seed of my farm started in the summer of 2011 while I was watching a documentary that featured a farmer lying on the ground, hanging out with his pigs. I had an epiphany then that changed my life. Before that moment, I had never realized farming could be a viable career option. It spoke to everything that was true in my soul: being in and working with nature to nurture and sustain life responsibly.

At the time, I was working as an elementary special education teacher with my fiancée, but we began looking for a homestead to nourish my agricultural aspirations. We knew we didn’t want to live in a typical, cookie-cutter neighborhood, but finding land was challenging. Let me tell you, two teachers in Texas do not make very much money.

Emaldi_DerekPortrait_cropThrough relentless effort, we found the perfect place: a rectangular, 10-acre parcel of land in the foothills of the Texas Hill Country. Our back acreage is one of the highest spots in our area with 20-mile views. The front part of our property slopes eastward with a gentle valley that cuts through the middle. It also came with a huge barn, where my wife and I got married. I couldn’t care less that most of our friends have bigger houses; we struck gold with our land and the area it resides in.

By February 2012, I was dreaming big and flirting with the idea of quitting my teaching job, but there were bills to pay. I continued to teach, but longed to farm. Everyday, it’s all I thought about. I immersed myself in whatever knowledge I could acquire. I worked at a farm during the summer, went to seminars, read everything farm related, meanwhile experimenting in farm projects at home. Before the 2013-2014 school year, I decided to save as much money as I could because this was it: I was quitting my job as a teacher and following my dreams.

In the Summer of 2014, I notified my school about my resignation, a very scary but proud moment in my life, and entered my first true year of being a farmer.

Currently, I’m trying to narrow down what I can handle by myself and what will make me a decent profit. I have a pastured poultry operation where I raise broilers and laying hens, an orchard of about 35 trees, and a half-acre vegetable plot. I also have a greenhouse that encompasses my aquaponics setup with 50 tilapia. Through a recently awarded grant for young farmers from the state of Texas, I have money to purchase pigs and cows, which will be here by early summer.

I spend long, backbreaking days in the Texas sun, but I couldn’t ask for a better life. I hope to continue as a steward of the earth and a provider to my family and community.

Follow Emadi Acres Farm on Facebook.

Bootstrap at Old Homeplace Farm: Meet Maggie

cover_crop_planting_2014_crop

Welcome to our 2015 Bootstrap Blog series! Over the next few weeks, we will be introducing you to our four Bootstrap Bloggers, who are all in their first or second year of running a farm. Throughout the season, each Bootstrap Blogger will write about the highs and lows, glory moments and curveballs that come with farming.


I remember processing chickens on my parents’ farm and scowling. At sixteen, I sometimes resented the fact that I had to work on the farm, but these days I have only gratitude for my upbringing. Gratitude for the knowledge and love of farming that my family passed down to me, gratitude that I found a partner with the same passion, and gratitude that I made it into my second year as a farmer!

Maggie_with_Huge_tomato_cropI currently grow two acres of organic (in transition) vegetables in southeastern Kentucky. I sell my produce through an online buying club, at a farmers market, to our local hospital cafeteria, and to area restaurants. The Buying Club is a similar to a CSA, but modified to fit the needs of our area. Interested people join the Buying Club and are then sent weekly emails with a link to the updated online farm store. Customers choose which items they’d like to buy each week and how much of each item. After receiving the orders we pack the produce and deliver to centrally located drop off points.  In addition, I help my husband, Will, and in-laws with their livestock operation, raising pork, grass-fed beef, and lamb. Will and I own a 55-acre farm where I grow two acres of vegetables and we are currently working to finish the fencing and water systems in order to raise livestock there as well.

In an area struggling with the decline of coal, food can be a wonderful way to connect with others. I believe that agriculture can make an economic impact in this region, and I hope (someday) to be an example of what can be done on small-scale, mountainous farms. In Clay County, Kentucky—the place that the New York Times named “the hardest place to live in America” in a 2014 article—we are farming; we are adapting our marketing to our region, and I believe that we have a bright future. One of the best aspects of farming is the lifelong learning that comes with it. Every day there are new problems to solve and new moments of wonder.

The farm life is hard. Starting a new business is difficult. I’ve been guilty of romanticizing the farm lifestyle. Growing up on a farm I found that living with and working within the confines of the seasons invigorates me. I’m bound to changes in the light, changes in the weather. The farm is in my blood, it’s in my bones, and it’s under my fingernails. Yet, as much happiness and satisfaction as I get from working outside, eating delicious food, and meeting wonderful customers, I’m exhausted. I know I will always be exhausted. My biggest hope and dream is that I will make a living on the farm, and that family farms across the country will as well. We need more farmers, and I plan to be one of them.

Learn more about Old Homeplace Farm on our website, and follow us on Facebook!

Bootstrap at Willow Springs Farm: Meet Hannah

hannah

Welcome to our 2015 Bootstrap Blog series! Over the next few weeks, we will be introducing you to our four Bootstrap Bloggers, who are all in their first or second year of running a farm. Throughout the season, each Bootstrap Blogger will write about the highs and lows, glory moments and curveballs that come with farming.

 

Hi! I’m Hannah Becker, founding farmer of Willow Springs Farm. Located in Franklin County, Kansas, Willow Springs Farm is a first-generation, bootstrapped startup focused on producing high quality grass-fed beef products. Our farm currently has 15 acres under operation, with another 45 leased acres designated for future development. We just wrapped up our first crowdfund campaign, and look forward to purchasing our inaugural herd August first.

Growing up outside of Washington, D.C., I did not have many opportunities to explore agriculture despite my strong passion to “be a cowgirl” since the young age of five. Determined to pursue my dreams of owning a cattle operation, I graduated with a B.S. in Animal and Diary Science, and my Masters of Business Administration (MBA). Additionally, I became one of the first female cattle producers recognized as a “Master Cattle Producer” by Mississippi State Extension, and completed the Masters of Beef Advocacy Certification.

hannahbecker2My objective for Willow Springs Farm is to lead the Kansas City area in high quality beef production by producing enough beef in 2020 to feed 150 community members. As a self-funded farming operation, Willow Springs’ development requires innovative strategy and determination. Completing my undergrad and graduate school education required the resources of student loans.

As a young farmer currently striving to invest in a startup farm, plus paying back student loan debt, its’ my hope that National Young Farmers Coalition succeeds in adding “farming” to the list of public service careers that qualify for student loan forgiveness. The financial constraints of my loan repayment pull money away from “would be” farm investments, thus slowing the growth and scale of my operation.

I believe farming is one of the most noble (and needed) of all professions, and am honored to be afforded the opportunity to live out my dreams of producing food for our world. With the average age of a U.S. farmers topping 58 years old, and only 6% of U.S. farmers under the age of 35, the emergence of new agricultural entities, such as Willow Springs Farm, are necessary to ensure our future food supply.

You can read more about my farm on our website, and you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

How land trusts can partner with young farmers

sparrowbush_20120517_2290

NYFC’s land access campaign manager, Holly Rippon-Butler, recently collaborated on an article for Saving Land magazine, which is published by the Land Trust Alliance. The article, Partnering with Next Generation Farmers, highlights the crucial role land trusts have in ensuring farmers have access stop affordable farmland, and it outlines some of the tools land trusts can use to make a positive impact on the future of our food system.

An excerpt:

[Lindsey Lusher] Shute, executive director of the National Young Farmers Coalition (link is external) (NYFC), outlines the dire facts: “In the next two decades, more than two-thirds of the farmland in the United States will change hands. As farmers retire and pass on, their land is likely to transition out of family ownership and management forever. In rural areas, family farms are being purchased by speculators or consolidated into mega-farms. In urban-influenced areas, active farms are being taken out of production as they’re sold for development or rural estates. In both cases, the price of farmland is far greater than what the next generation of farmers can possibly afford.” […]

For years, strategic preservation of farmland by land trusts has laid a foundation for long-term production of locally grown foods, particularly in urbanizing regions where an estimated 80% of Americans now live [The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency]. However, the challenges facing farmers today urgently require this work to be scaled up and strengthened to keep farmland owned by farmers and in agricultural production.

To read the full article, including the list of innovative tools that land trusts are making use of to preserve farmland, follow this link.

Photo: Ashley Loer of Sparrowbush Farm

New NYFC report finds student loan debt is exacerbating farmer shortage

Vertical_professions_FIPS

Today NYFC released a new report, Farming Is Public Service: A Case for Adding Farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which shows that student loan debt is one of the key barriers preventing more would-be farmers and ranchers from entering agriculture.

Read the full report here. 

FIPS_report_coverThe report contains data from a new survey of more than 700 young farmers as well as data compiled from the USDA Census of Agriculture. Highlights include:

  • Only 6% of all U.S. farmers are under the age of 35. Between 2007 and 2012 America gained only 1,220 principal farm operators under 35. During the same period, the total number of principal farm operators dropped by more than 95,000.
  • Survey respondents carried an average of $35,000 in student loans.
  • 30% of survey respondents said their student loans are delaying or preventing them from farming.
  • 28% of survey respondents say student loan pressure has prevented them from growing their business, and 20% of respondents report being unable to obtain credit because of their student loans.

“Farming is a capital-intensive career with slim margins,” said NYFC executive director and cofounder, Lindsey Lusher Shute. “Faced with student loan debt, many young people decide they can’t afford to farm. In other cases, the bank decides for them by denying them the credit they need for land, equipment, and operations.”

Goodwin_fussy gourmet

Photo by LL Gingerich

With thousands of American farmers nearing retirement (the average age of farmers is now 58), the U.S. needs at least 100,000 new farmers over the next two decades. This issue reaches beyond the farm and impacts rural economies because farmers are often the primary revenue generators and employers in rural areas.

According to Davon Goodwin, a 25-year-old farmer and veteran from North Carolina (pictured above), encouraging more young people to become career farmers is essential. “Farming is serving your community at the highest level,” said Goodwin. “Making sure families have access to healthy, local food is as important as being a police officer or a teacher.”

On June 1, legislation was introduced in Congress that would add farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), placing the profession of farming alongside careers such as nursing, teaching, and law enforcement that already qualify for the program. Through PSLF, professionals who make 10 years of income-driven student loan payments while serving in a qualifying public service career have the balance of their loans forgiven.

The bipartisan Young Farmer Success Act (H.R. 2590) was introduced by Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Rep. Courtney (D-CT). Co-sponsors include Rep. Pingree (D-ME), Rep. Emmer (R-MN) and Rep. Lofgren (D-CA). The legislation has broad support from nearly 100 farming organizations, including National Farmers Union, FFA, and Farm Aid.

Interested in supporting the Young Farmer Success Act? Visit our Farming Is Public Service page to learn more and take action.