Today, a bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives took action to address our urgent national need for more young farmers by reintroducing the Young Farmer Success Act (H.R. 1060).
The National Young Farmers Coalition first worked with members of Congress in 2015 to tackle one of the greatest barriers to young farmer success: student loan debt. The Young Farmer Success Act was introduced in October 2015 and today, that bill was reintroduced with key bipartisan support.
As an entire generation of farmers nears retirement, and with nearly two-thirds of our nation’s working farmland expected to change hands in the next two decades, our entire agricultural economy and food supply are at stake. Providing a viable path for young entrepreneurs to apply their energy and grit toward feeding their communities must become a national priority. And with a new Congress and a new President, now is the time to act.
“America needs a new generation of farmers, now more than ever,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), one of the bill’s lead sponsors. “The number of new farmers entering the field of agriculture has dropped by 20 percent, while the average farmer age has risen above 58-years-old. We must invest in the next generation of farmers, and do it now.”
The Young Farmer Success Act would incentivize careers in agriculture by adding farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, an existing program that currently includes professions such as government service, teaching, and nursing. Under the program, public service professionals who make 10 years of income-driven student loan payments would have the balance of their loans forgiven.
“Farmers are stewards of the land and cornerstones of our rural communities,” U.S. Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA) said. “They provide the country with a safe and affordable food supply, but we need to do more to cultivate the future generation of farmers. They face tough odds by the very nature of the business, and this legislation will provide incentives for those who would like to pursue a future in the agriculture industry, which aids our national security and the long-term sustainability of our country.”
According to U.S. Rep. John Faso (R-NY), farmers provide an invaluable service to the public. “Farmers support rural economies by generating jobs and income,” he said. “They steward nearly one billion acres of land and meet one of our most basic needs—producing the food our nation eats.”
Farming is an expensive business to enter, in part because of skyrocketing land prices, and beginning farmers often face small profits or even losses in their first years of business. In 2011, the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) conducted a survey of 1,000 young farmers and found that 78% of respondents struggled with a lack of capital. A 2014 NYFC survey of 700 young farmers with student loan debt found that the average burden of student loans was $35,000 and that 53% of respondents were currently farming but had a hard time making their student loan payments, while another 30% were interested in farming but hadn’t pursued it as a career because their salary as a farmer wouldn’t be enough to cover their student loan payments.
“It’s time to recruit a new generation of farmers who will support our rural economies and feed the nation for generations to come,” said NYFC executive director and cofounder Lindsey Lusher Shute, who is herself a young farmer. “We are grateful for the bipartisan support for this bill, especially for its champions, Representative Joe Courtney, Representative Glenn Thompson, and Representative John Faso. As this bill demonstrates, this is not a partisan issue. It’s not even a political issue. This is about protecting our nation’s ability to feed itself, and preserving our rural traditions.”