Farming provides a public service. Just as we’ve provided incentives for Americans to enter medicine, education, and other public service careers, we need to encourage young people to choose careers in agriculture. Farmers, like nurses, teachers, government employees and non-profit workers, should qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
Student loan debt has become one of the most significant challenges our nation’s young farmers and ranchers face. With 63% of farmland on the cusp of transition to the next generation, growing a new generation of farmers is critical. But between 2007 and 2012, the number of beginning farmers actually fell by 20%.
Fortunately, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program was created in 2007 to help people enter professions that provide a public good, but offer salaries too limited to manage student loan debt. Currently, this program covers teachers, nurses, doctors, public interest attorneys, government employees, and nonprofit professionals. Once enrollees make 10 years of income-driven student loan payments, the balance of their federal loan debt is forgiven. The program is a practical way for the government to incentivize careers of critical need.
To ensure the success of the next generation of farmers, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program must be amended to include farmers.