A bipartisan bill has been introduced into the U.S House of Representatives that would incentivize agricultural careers with student loan forgiveness. On Feb. 15, both Democratic and Republican representatives reintroduced the Young Farmer Success Act, HR 1060, aimed to increase the number of young people owning and operating farms by adding farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
Reps. Joe Courtney, D-Connecticut, Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Pennsylvania, and John Faso, R-New York, introduced the bipartisan act. The Young Farmers Success Act was created by members of Congress with the help of the National Young Farmers Coalition, and was first introduced in 2015.
Under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which includes professions like teaching, nursing and government service, public service professionals who pay 10 years worth of student loan payments can have the remaining balance of their loan forgiven.
The Young Farmer Success Act would add farming to that list of qualifying professions.
"America needs a new generation of farmers, now more than ever," Courtney said in a statement. "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."
Courtney is right -- a whole generation of farmers are nearing or passing retirement age, and within the next 20 years, almost two-thirds of working U.S. farmlands will change hands. This means our country's agricultural future, not to mention our economic future, is in the hand of these future farmers.
Rep. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania also stated,
"Farmers are stewards of the land and cornerstones of our rural communities. 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."
New York Rep. Faso said, "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 isn't cheap to get into, either. A 2011 survey by the NYFC found that 78 percent of the 1,000 young farmers responding struggled with lack of capital; further, a 2014 NYFC survey of 700 young farmers found the average student loan debt was $35,000.
More than half (53 percent) of those responding had trouble keeping up with payments while they farmed, and another 30 wanted to become farmers, but were dissuaded because what they made as a farmer would not be enough to cover payments.
NYFC Executive Director and Co-Founder Lindsey Lusher Shute said in a statement,
"It's time to recruit a new generation of farmers who will support our rural economies and feed the nation for generations to come. 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."
There are, of course, a few stipulations.
To qualify, a farm or ranch must earn gross annual revenue during the year from the sale of agricultural products at an an amount established by the consumer price index and determined by the secretary.
At the bill's 2015 introduction, that amount was $35,000 -- less than the $43,750 average net income of farms, according to 2012 USDA figures.