Representatives Josh Harder (CA-10), Joe Courtney (CT-2), Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PA-15), and Lee Zeldin (NY-1) have introduced the Young Farmer Success Act, a bipartisan effort to preserve America’s agricultural economy and the security of its national food supply by adding full-time farmers and ranchers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
“Farmers feed America – and the world – but crushing student loan debt has made it even more difficult for folks to join the industry. That has to change,” said Rep. Harder. “Our bipartisan effort would make it easier for folks to pursue a career in agriculture and set new farmers on a path to success.”
“America needs a new generation of farmers, now more than ever,” added Rep. Courtney. “The number of new farmers entering the field of agriculture has dropped by 20 percent, while the average farmer age has now risen above 58-years-old. The skyrocketing cost of higher education and the growing burden of student loan debt are presenting major obstacles for young farmers. The burden of student loan debt can thwart their ability to purchase the farming operations they need to get started or drive them away from a career in agriculture altogether. This legislation would assist new farmers during the costly, initial phases of opening a farming business, and allow them a fighting chance to build a life on the farm for themselves and their families.”
The Young Farmer Success Act would incentivize careers in agriculture by adding farmers and ranchers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, an existing program that currently includes teachers, nurses, first responders, and other public service professions. Under the program, eligible public service professionals who make 10 years of income-driven student loan payments can have the balance of their loans forgiven.
“Farmers are stewards of the land and cornerstones of our society,” said Rep. Thompson. “They provide the country with a safe and affordable food supply, and we must cultivate the next generation of farmers. The Young Farmer Success Act will provide incentives for those who would like to pursue a future in the agriculture industry, which will aid our national security and the long-term sustainability of our country.”
“Our country’s farmers are part of the backbone of our nation, and while they are critical to ensuring American families have food to put on the table, all too often the next generation of farmers is finding that a career in agriculture makes it difficult to put food on their own table,” said Congressman Zeldin.
“Eighty-one percent of the young farmers who responded to our 2017 national survey hold a bachelor’s degree or an advanced degree. This means there is a very small population of beginning farmers without student loan debt. With the average age of farmers now nearing 60 years, and farmers over 65 outnumbering those under 35 by six to one, we need to do more for the next generation of farmers to succeed,” said Young Farmers Interim Executive Director, Martín Lemos.
In 2011, the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) conducted a survey of 1,000 young farmers and found that 78 percent of respondents struggled with a lack of capital. A 2014 follow-up survey of 700 young farmers with student loan debt found that the average burden of student loans was $35,000 and that 53 percent of respondents are currently farming but have a hard time making their student loan payments, while another 30 percent are interested in farming, but haven’t pursued it as a career because their salary as a farmer wouldn’t be enough to cover their student loan payments.