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Bill seeks to help young farmers succeed

Bill seeks to help young farmers succeed


Posted: Monday, July 6, 2015 12:30 am

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Farmers looking to break into the agriculture industry could soon be getting some extra help courtesy of the Young Farmer Success Act of 2015.

The bill would help new farmers with managing their student loan debt by adding them to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

Due to the hard work of the National Young Farmer's Coalition, U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-19, introduced the bill to the House of Representatives along with fellow Connecticut U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2, on June 1.

“We brought the issue to Congressman Gibson last year and spoke with him about the challenges of starting a farm and the tremendous student loan debt many young farmers carry,” Lindsey Lusher Shute, the coaliton's executive director, said.

The coalition worked alongside Gibson's team on drafting the bill. The Young Farmer Success Act of 2015 would allow a farmer to see the balance of their student loans forgiven after making 10 years of income-based student loan payments. This would free up capital for farmers to acquire land and equipment.

The bill requires a qualified farm to earn a minimum of $35,000 in revenue for the farmer in order to be eligible for loan forgiveness. This is to prevent the program from being used by hobby farmers or others who do not perform a public service.

“As proud as we are of our farmers, we have six times more farmers over the age of 65 than there are under the age of 35,” Gibson said. “Over the next two decades, the U.S. needs over 100,000 new farmers.”

The coalition has built up an advocacy network of 60,000 farmers, ranchers and consumers led by Lusher Shute since 2010. Lusher Shute said they are working to get more members of the House of Representatives to show support, and are currently working with senators to introduce a similar piece of legislation.

Gibson and Lusher Shute both said they hoped to include the bill as a part of the Higher Education Act. They said the more support they can gain for the bill, the better.

If the bill were to stand alone, it would not likely pass. Gibson said by trying to get it to pass with a larger measure like the Higher Education Act, it would stand a better chance.

The coalition released the results of their newest farmer survey on June 24. The survey found student loan debt is intensifying the nation's farmer shortage.

Over 700 farmers took part in the coaliton's “Farming is a Public Service Survey.” The survey also looked at data compiled by the United States Department of Agriculture census.

The coalition's communication director, Chelsey Simpson, said they had launched their “Farming is Public Service" campaign in late 2014, and members of the coalition had been hearing about the burden of student loans from farmers in the coalition for years. The newest survey has increased their advocacy efforts.

“A self-reliant nation requires a vibrant agricultural sector, but student loan debt creates a significant barrier to getting started in farming,” Gibson said in a June 2 press release. “Our bill empowers young people to attend college and embrace this important vocation.”

According to the survey, only 6 percent of all U.S. farmers are under the age of 35. Between 2007 and 2012, America gained 1,220 principal farm operators under the age of 35.

On average, survey respondents said they carried $35,000 in student loan debt. Of the 700 respondents, 30 percent said student loans were preventing or delaying them from farming.

A total of 28 percent of the survey’s respondents said student loan pressure has prevented them from growing their business, and another 20 percent report being unable to obtain credit because of this debt.

Additional co-sponsors of the bill include U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, U.S. Rep. Thomas Emmer, Jr. of Minnesota, and U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California.

For more information on the National Young Farmer's Coalition, visit their website www.youngfarmers.org.


To reach reporter Katie Kocijanski, call the Register Star at 518-828-1616 ext. 2495, or email kkocijanski@registerstar.com.


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