U.S. SENATE News:
WASHINGTON, D.C. ― U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced two bills Tuesday to strengthen the next generation of farmers and ranchers by reducing the burden of student loan debt and making capital easier to obtain so new farmers can buy land, equipment or livestock.
The bills, the Flexible Agricultural Repayments and Modifying Schedules (FARMS) Act and the Farmers of Tomorrow Act, aim to attract younger generations to farming and shore up the future of farming and ranching in the United States, where the number of new farmers continues to decline rapidly and the average age of farmers continues to rise.
“New Mexico’s farmers and ranchers help feed the nation and the world while growing our state’s economy,” Udall said. “But New Mexico has the second highest age for a farmer—60. We need to do more to lift barriers that are preventing hopeful new farmers and ranchers from staying and investing in rural communities in New Mexico and across the country. Our common-sense, bipartisan bills tackle common financial and legal roadblocks for beginning farmers and ranchers. By addressing the obstacles that make starting a career in farming seem out of reach, we can open the door for the next generation of farmers and ranchers to step in and keep our nation’s food system the strongest and most productive in the world.”
“Oklahomans of all generations and backgrounds should have the opportunity to experience a rewarding career in agriculture, and we need to do more to encourage young people to choose agriculture,” Inhofe said. “These bills will reduce barriers of entry to farming, cut red tape and encourage young Americans to invest in themselves and their rural communities.”
The Flexible Agricultural Repayments and Modifying Schedules (FARMS) Act: Unlike many professions, agricultural producers do not have a steady cash flow throughout the year, and instead receive influxes of cash sporadically, most often after harvests. As a result, farmers can face difficulty making monthly payments on federal student loans and securing a line of credit to start or build businesses. The FARMS Act authorizes a restructured repayment plan for beginning, minority, women, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers and ranchers that would allow for quarterly, biannual, or annual payment plans, so farmers can match their student loan payment schedules to their income.
The Farmers of Tomorrow Act: The average cost of farm real estate in 2017 was $3,080 per acre, up from $2,540 in 2012; average cropland cost $4,090 per acre in 2017, up from $3,350 in 2012. Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture gives farm ownership loan preference to applicants with a degree in agriculture or a related field and several years of agricultural tax returns. However, many beginning farmers and ranchers may be entering agriculture after pursuing a different educational path or leaving another industry, and therefore may not have the required tax return information to secure a direct farm ownership loan. This bill would equalize the application process, so that beginning farmers and ranchers with degrees in other disciplines and new to agriculture are better able to access the capital necessary to buy a farm.
“We simply cannot let another farm or higher education bill go by without addressing the structural obstacles that young farmers face,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute, co-founder and Executive Director of the National Young Farmers Coalition. “The introduction of these bills sends an important signal that student loan debt and access to capital are interrelated challenges facing the next generation. The future of American agriculture depends on how seriously we take those challenges.”
“New Mexico, being the second oldest state in terms of the age of agriculture producers, is in a state of transition,” said Jeff M. Witte, director of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. “The Beginning Farmer and Rancher package will provide important tools to encourage our next generation of producers to enter production agriculture, contribute to their local communities and help feed consumers in the local, state, nation and world. It is imperative for the strength of our rural communities to maintain a strong production agriculture economy.”
“With an aging population of farmers and ranchers, agriculture is in need of a younger generation to continue to provide the fuel, fiber and food we all rely on,” said Chad Smith, CEO of New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau. “It is very difficult for beginning farmers and ranchers to obtain the capital necessary to enter into a life in agriculture. Legislation that will level the playing field and allow those interested in agriculture to secure loans regardless of their college degree or work history will open the doors to many that may not have the resources or the qualifications to obtain funding. On a personal note, after having worked with New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau for nearly 10 years, I looked into a beginning Farmer and Rancher loan through FSA and unfortunately, because I did not have hands on experience in production Ag, I was told I would not qualify. Changing the requirements will make it a truly ‘beginning farmer and rancher’ program.”