Support for the National Young Farmers Coalition's latest mission includes a number of infographics, each spouting statistics about the continual decrease of new farmers and the average age of farmers in America. Their website is a shrine to their most prevalent cause, and for good reason. The coalition is petitioning to allow farming to join the ranks of other public services that are recognized in Congress as qualifying for certain programs. Most key among these programs is the one that qualifies new farmers for student loan forgiveness.
Among the jobs that qualify for student loan forgiveness are government employees, doctors and nurses, and teachers; a process of making student loan payments for a period of ten years then allows people with public service jobs to get financially square with the government without paying the full cost of the debt. The tagline on the NYFC website states, "Farming provides a public service. Just as we’ve provided incentives for Americans to enter medicine, education, and other public service careers, we need to encourage young people to choose careers in agriculture." As more and more farmers are retiring (given that the average age of American farmers hovers somewhere between 57 and 60) and an estimated 63% of farmland up for grabs for younger farmers, it is becoming more crucial than ever to encourage the next generation of farmers to step up to the plate.
Testimonials from young farmers pepper the NYFC site, where young farmers claim that inclusion in the debt forgiveness program would be the key determinant in whether they choose to pursue a career in agriculture. Startup costs alone for new farmers, especially recent college graduates already facing a pile of debt, only digs them a deeper hole as they struggle to purchase necessary equipment and eventually plan to turn a profit. The mountain of money turns out to be far more than most aspiring farmers are willing to conquer, so unless they inherit a somewhat successful existing farm (complete with the equipment and customer base that allows them to sustain as a business), the cost-benefit analysis turns out negative.
The push to forgive student debts for young farmers is about more than small town farming though. Even the larger corporations responsible for half of the food in most households can rely on small-town farmers as suppliers. The continual drop in levels of farmers of any age is just another factor that should be taken into account. While for a long time, most lawmakers didn't consider farming to be a public service, the NYFC and their advocates' argument that it should be considered a public service is gaining merit. They point out that for the time being our country may not suffer, but in the long term, allowing the market for new farmers to decline will have much more serious consequences.
Figures courtesy of the National Young Farmers Coalition.