By Congressman Chris Gibson (NY-19)220px-Chris_Gibson_2

The average age of the American farmer is 58, and farmers over the age of 65 outnumber farmers under the age of 35 by a margin of six to one. As the majority of our farmers near retirement, we will need at least 100,000 new farmers to take their place. That is why I authored H.R. 2590, the Young Farmer Success Act.

This bipartisan bill, which I introduced this past June with Congressman Joe Courtney of Connecticut, helps new farmers manage their student loan debt by adding them to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

Much like teachers, doctors, nurses, and government employees who are already eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, farmers are public servants. Our farmers not only produce our food and fiber, they protect the rural landscape we love and generate substantial economic activity in every state.

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

Under the Young Farmer Success Act, a farmer would see the balance of his or her student loans forgiven after making 10 years of income-based student loan payments, freeing capital for farmers to acquire land and equipment. The bill requires applicants to work full-time at a farm earning a minimum of $35,000 in revenue, preventing those who do not farm for a living from taking advantage of the program.

IMG_2304Supporters of the Young Farmer Success Act include the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), an advocacy network of 60,000 farmers, ranchers, and consumers led by farmer Lindsey Lusher Shute of Clermont, NY.

The NYFC conducted a survey of 700 young farmers and found that 53% of respondents are currently farming but have a hard time making student loan payments. Another 30% want to go into farming but haven’t pursued it as a career because they would be unable to make enough money to cover their student loan payments.

The number of farmers under the age of 35 grew by only 1% between 2007 and 2012. If we do not do more to grow the ranks of farmers, we will not only lose more family farms, we run the risk of becoming dependent on food imports.

In many respects, bringing more people into agricultural careers is a national security issue. I say that as someone who spent nearly three decades in the Army, deploying seven times, including four combat tours in Iraq. Relying on other countries to feed our population is not in our best interest.

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