As the annual Future Farmers of America Texas State Convention got underway last week, delegates and officials were riding high on news from Washington that a new bill introduced recently may give young farmers hope for the future as they plan their education in preparation for entry into the farming and ranching industry.
The 87th Annual Texas FFA State Convention was staged in Corpus Christi July 13-17 where new officers were elected, scholarships announced, new policies affecting farming were discussed and where Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott addressed members encouraging them to "hold the course" to help bolster farming and ranching for generations to come.
Abbott told young farmers thousands of American farmers are currently nearing retirement, and the U.S. needs at least 100,000 new farmers over the next two decades. He said the issue reaches beyond the farm and impacts rural economies because farmers are often the primary revenue generators and employers in rural areas.
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“Through drought and flood, Texas has long grown from the bounty of the land – that’s our proud heritage here in the Lone Star State,” said Abbott. “And you are the stewards of our future.
“Looking at this group of FFA members, I’m confident about the future leaders of Texas. The lessons you learn through the FFA, the values you share, will prepare you to lead this state and the nation. Texas is the greatest state in America, and we are counting on you to keep it that way.”
As the convention got underway, high on the minds of delegates and FFA officials alike were how young farmers interested in continuing their education in the field of agriculture and interested in new start up operations upon graduation can afford the high cost of higher education and have enough left over to invest in farming and ranching start up operations.
According to the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), the Young Farmer Success Act, H.R. 2590, cosponsored by U.S. Representatives Chris Gibson and Joe Courtney, could help agriculture attract new young farmers and eventually reverse a growing trend of fewer farmers to feed the growing number of consumers expected in the years ahead. The bill is designed to help young farmers get financial relief through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
Results from a survey conducted by NYFC indicate that student loan debt is one of the key barriers preventing more would-be farmers and ranchers from entering agriculture. The report, Farming Is Public Service: A Case for Adding Farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, finds that 30 percent of survey respondents delayed or declined to enter agriculture because of their student loans, while an additional 48 percent said student loans prevented them from growing their business or obtaining credit to invest in their farm.
"Farming is a capital-intensive career with slim margins," said NYFC executive director and cofounder, Lindsey Lusher Shute. "Faced with student loan debt, many young people decide they can’t afford to farm. In other cases, the bank decides for them by denying them the credit they need for land, equipment and operations."
Over 700 young farmers were surveyed for the study. The survey comprises data compiled from the USDA Census of Agriculture as well. Highlights include:
- Only 6 percent of all U.S. farmers are under the age of 35. Between 2007 and 2012 America gained only 1,220 principal farm operators under 35. During the same period, the total number of principal farm operators dropped by more than 95,000.
- Survey respondents carried an average of $35,000 in student loans.
- 30 percent of survey respondents said their student loans are delaying or preventing them from farming.
- 28 percent of survey respondents say student loan pressure has prevented them from growing their business, and 20 percent of respondents report being unable to obtain credit because of their student loans.
Additional co-sponsors of H.R. 2590 include Reps. Chellie Pingree of Maine, Thomas Emmer, Jr. of Minnesota and Zoe Lofgren of California.
For more information on the National Young Farmer's Coalition, visit their website www.youngfarmers.org.