Young farmers identified student loan debt as a major challenge
By Diego Flammini
Two U.S. Senators are trying to remove some of the challenges facing young American farmers.
Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced the Student Loan Forgiveness for Farmers and Ranchers Act on Thursday. If passed, the bill would create the Agricultural Student Loan Forgiveness Program for qualified producers.
The ag program would operate similarly to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which helps teachers, nurses and other public employees with debt relief.
“Farming is a public service and we should help those who want to help their communities,” Senator Murphy said in a July 18 statement. “This bill will incentivize (America’s) new farmers to plant crops, buy equipment and grow their businesses.”
The bill follows a 2017 survey from the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) that classified student loan debt as the second-biggest challenge for young farmers. (The top challenge was access to land.)
Of the 4,476 respondents in that survey, 29 percent (1,298 people) identified student loans as a significant challenge, with 10 percent (447 respondents) categorizing it as the biggest challenge.
And as the average age of farmers increasing, young producers need as much support as possible.
“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 to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers in this country,” Sophie Ackoff, vice-president of policy and campaigns with NYFC, told Farms.com in an email. "Creating a student loan forgiveness program exclusively for farmers and ranchers will provide our nation’s young farmers a pathway out of student loan debt so they are in a better position to access additional credit to grow their businesses."
Those individuals who work with young farmers hear about the hurdle that student debt creates.
“I hear it every once in a while, and we know (student debt) makes it harder for young farmers to go out and start farming,” Shonda Hahn, a farmer from Johnson County, Iowa and member of the Iowa Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer Program, told Farms.com.
During her time in college, Hahn worked full time to ensure her student debt remained at a manageable level, she said.
Forgiving the student debt for young producers will allow them to invest the money into their businesses and keep family farms afloat, she said.
“More younger farmers would want to come back home and farm and be able to do something with that extra income,” she said. “Coming up with money to start a farming business can be the biggest challenge for them, especially if they don’t have parents or anyone with an existing operation that could include them in a succession plan.”