WASHINGTON, June 1, 2015— The National Young Farmers Coalition announced the introduction of a bill in the House today that would encourage young people to take up farming as a career by reducing the burden of their federally backed college loans.
The Young Farmer Success Act of 2015, sponsored by Reps. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., and Joe Courtney, D-Conn., would add farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which currently includes debt relief for professions such as government service, teaching, and nursing, but not farming.
“Our farmers not only generate vital economic activity in every state, they produce our food and fiber and protect the rural landscape as true public servants,” Gibson said in a press release. “This common-sense legislation makes it far easier for our college graduates to return to the family farm or begin production on land of their own, safeguarding a way of life that sustains our nation.”
According to the Department of Education, the current Loan Forgiveness program allows borrowers to qualify for forgiveness of the remaining balance of their federal Direct Loans after they have made 120 qualifying payments on those loans while employed full time by certain public service employers. The National Young Farmers Coalition argues that farming is a public service and should qualify for the program.
The bill introduced today applies to any type of farmer earning gross revenue of at least $35,000 per year from farm products. The purpose of the limitation is to make sure hobby farmers -- or those who do not farm as a career -- are not included, Eric Hansen, a policy analyst at the National Young Farmers Coalition, explained in an interview with Agri-Pulse. Otherwise, any type of farmer with student loan debt would be eligible.
The coalition noted that as the majority of existing farmers near retirement, the country will need at least 100,000 new farmers to take their place. Farmers over the age of 65 outnumber those under 35 by a margin of 6-to-1, and between 2007 and 2012, the number of young farmers increased by only 1,220.
“To bridge this gap, we must remove barriers to farming as a career option, and one of the biggest barriers is student loan debt,” noted the coalition.
Hansen said they are hoping to attach the measure to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which expired at the end of 2013. He noted that this is “not a policy area agriculture usually plays in,” so “we need to make sure farmers’ voices are heard.”
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