Proposal could mean forgiving student loans for U.S. farmers

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(Farm and Dairy file photo of money)

SALEM, Ohio — Student loans are on the minds of most college graduates, but for farmers, it can be what keeps you from reaching your goals.

That is exactly what Emily Best, 31, said she feels like when it comes to long-term goals and managing the student loan debt she racked up while completing her graduate degree.

Proposed legislation

A proposal, The Young Farmer Success Act of 2015, introduced in Congress by Reps. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., and Joe Courtney, D-Conn., would expand the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to farmers.

Best, originally of Butler, Pennsylvania, said she was lucky and didn’t accumulate debt while completing her undergraduate degree. But then the Great Recession in 2008 hit and she decided the best thing for her to do was to go back to college and get her graduate degree. That’s where she accumulated over $70,000 in student loans.

“What they didn’t tell us is that it doesn’t solve your job problem,” said Best.

She obtained her master’s degree in environmental policy from the American University in Washington D.C.

Still struggling

After graduation, Best joined the Peace Corps to get agricultural work experience and let the economy settle. She stayed for one year and then found a job with New Morning Farm in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. New Morning Farm is an organic vegetable farm with over 40 different crops that are selling mostly in D.C. at farmers markets, wholesaling and at a co-op.

Best said she thought she would stay one season, gain experience and move on. However, after one season, she decided she liked the work a lot and decided to stay.

Now, Best manages the farm’s greenhouse and grows some of the crops, handles social media and communications as well as managing the farm market on Sundays.

As far as her degree, Best said she is still getting to use it by speaking at conferences in the winter about agriculture and environmental issues and sharing her opinions gathered from her hands-on work experience.

Hoping bill will move

Best said if the proposal would become part of the program, it would help her greatly.

The proposal says a person graduating wouldn’t have to own their own farm, but would have to be working full-time as farmer, which is what she is doing.

“To know there is an end to the loans, would be such a relief,” said Best.

She added she feels stalled in her life because it almost feels impossible to consider purchasing a home or farm with the debt looming over head.

Like many farmers, she wonders when the money will match up to the feelings of satisfaction she gets at the end of the day.

“It’s a shame there is no value to so many important professions today,” said Best.

Hurdles

The National Young Farmers Coalition contends that data shows student loans are one of the biggest hurdles young farmers are facing when they graduate college and are beginning to farm.

Under the proposal, farmers would be added to the program that currently offers forgiveness to certain teachers, law enforcement officers and other public service professionals. The National Young Farmers Coalition contends that farming is public service because it means providing food for people, and should qualify for the program.

According to the Department of Education, the current Loan Forgiveness program allows borrowers to qualify for forgiveness of the remaining balance of their federal Direct Loans after they have made 120 qualifying payments on those loans while employed full time by certain public service employers.

The bill, introduced in June, applies to any type of farmer earning gross revenue of at least $35,000 per year from farm products. The purpose of the limitation is to make sure individuals who are not farming as a full-time vocation are not included.

Average debt

A survey completed by the National Young Farmers Coalition found, of the 700 people surveyed, the average responder had $35,000 in student loans.

The study also found that 53 percent of the respondents are currently farming, but struggle to make their student loan payments on a farm income. Nearly 30 percent of those who responded said they didn’t pursue farming or are waiting to pursue farming because of their student loan payments.

“Student loans are one of the biggest barriers to keep farmers from succeeding and if this proposal would be approved, it would give them opportunities,” said Chelsea Simpson, The National Young Farmers Coalition communications director.

Aging farmers

The Young Farmers Coalition is also pushing for the proposal to be passed because of the aging farming population. The number of farmers over 65 outnumbers farmers under 35 by a margin of six to one.

No instant fix

The coalition emphasized the program is not an instant way out of student loans.
Farmers would need to pay on their loans for 10 years, at least on an income-based amount, and would have to show an annual income of $35,000 from farming.
The group also contends the program would benefit those wanting to operate their own farm.

“This is for folks who really need the help,” said Simpson.

See the chart below for some scenarios:

ScenarioDirect into profitable farmingHigher earner following start-upLow earner following start-up
Total beginning debt$35,000$35,000$35,000
Training and start-up length0 Years4 Years5 Years
Training and start-up annual earningsN/A$20,000$20,000
Salary following training and start-up$60,000$60,000$30,000
Total paid by borrower over 10 years$42,355$29,300$9,973
Total forgiven under PSLF Program$0$21,551$44,109

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10 COMMENTS

  1. If this is to be implemented, there needs to be a limit on income or number of acres farmed, and the farmer should not be able to collect ag subsidies during the time the loans are in repayment. I was raised in an area where the farmers collects tens of thousands per year in subsidies, and live in million dollar homes. My father is a farmer while I “went to the city.” I can tell you this — most of the people I went to high school with who are now farmers are in a MUCH better position to pay their student loans than I am.

  2. …more “giveaways,” more “gimme that” to garner votes.

    plus, this story here has the bleeding heart component of the unfairly treated or “woe is me” student who took out loans knowing they had to be repaid.

    let me say something my Daddy told me over 65 years ago: “There ain’t no free lunch–never has been and never will be “free.”

    a great dis-service will be done to future farmers of America by allowing them to mooch from the public.

  3. Why are farmers being singled out here for this special treatment?I owe student loan money that is stolen from my check every 2 darn weeks?Where is the proposed legislation for me to ?

  4. Donna must be from a very affluent and unique area. In my years(I’m 66), while working as a Vo-Ag teacher of high school students and young-adult farmers, or when I was a field rep. for our state Farm Bureau, I don,t recall seeing those farmers million dollar homes. Nor when I served as an elected officer of two different livestock organizations did I notice any farmers living in that luxury. As a farmer myself, although I’m only part time, my family home isn’t quite as spectacular as you claim of your high school friends.
    What I did see was hard working, honest, bill paying, tax paying, wife and/or husband working a second job to meet their own financial obligations as well as
    getting the kids through college. Myself, I had a student loan which was paid in full by me.
    So to you and others whom are complaining about farm subsidies, go get yourself a farm or become engaged in other agriculture pursuit and live your proclaimed life of extravagance while producing the safest and cheapest food supply in the world.

  5. Amen to you, Gary! If it’s so lucrative to farm, I would think everyone would be doing it! I got a teaching degree and my husband and I took over the debt-ridden family farm to save it from the auction block. We were both in our early twenties. We were afraid every day that something would break down or a cow would get sick and throw a wrench in our budget. If you would like to get up every single day at 4:30 am and milk cows for 3 hours, feed and bed the cows and their calves, make hay and enough crops to feed these cattle to last through the entire year, and then be done in the field in time to milk, feed, and bed the cattle again at 4:30 pm, well then come join me. Welcome to my world and enjoy the riches. If you are jealous of my shiny green tractor, know that I work 16 hours a day to pay for that tractor so that I can be efficient enough to get my work done in that tiny 16 hour window every day. Would you rather have an educated, innovative American farmer producing your food or would your rather have your food come from an unregulated, unknown foreign source. Try to keep up, and enjoy your supper.

  6. I am against more than very short term subsidies to any industry. Farming subsidies merely inflate farm prices. Properties are still sold at the same ROI albeit at a higher level. NZ dairy farmers do well with no subsidies. One man. One dog and a motorbike can milk 400 cows twice per day. Buyers assess the risk level to any industry before entering and pay accordingly

  7. Just a few thoughts from a current agricultural college student…

    Agriculture is one of the most capital intense give businesses in thr world. To put it in perspective a used tractors can range from 20,000 and up and that’s just one piece of farm equipment, land is $2000 and acre and up, livestock, fertilizer and seed prices are also high. On our family farm our hay baling equipment has a price tag above 100K alone not mention all the other equipment we need to stay productive and competitive, don’t even get me started on our fuel bill. Young farmers are not “mooching” off the public through these loan forgiveness programs they truly need help to get a foothold in such a capital intensive business, food security is a integral part of our national security, just keep that in mind.

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