As the U.S. Congress continues debate on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, and Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, reintroduced the Student Loan Forgiveness for Farmers and Ranchers Act Wednesday.
It would create a loan forgiveness program for beginning farmers and ranchers, as well as other groups such as women, veterans and minority farmers, according to a press release.
Student loan debt is a major hurdle for beginning farmers and this legislation will serve as an incentive for farmers to enter and stay in the agricultural industry, and strengthen opportunities for farmers to grow successful businesses, Murphy said in the release.
The senator visited Deerfield Farm in Durham in early June, and met with Melynda Naples, who has run the dairy business for 15 years on 60 acres of town-owned land at 337 Parmelee Hill Road.
They discussed his plan to raise the bill. Naples was 21 when she took over.
"Farmers are critical to Connecticut's economy, and we should be doing everything possible to make it easier for anyone to enter the field. As I travel across Connecticut, I consistently hear young people tell me that they want to stay in farming, but thousands of dollars in student loan debt holds them back," Murphy said in a prepared statement.
"This bill will incentivize Connecticut's new farmers to plant crops, buy equipment, and grow their businesses. Farming is a public service and we should help those who want to help their communities," Murphy added.
"New Mexico's farmers and ranchers are the lifeblood of our rural communities, and it's vital that we make smart investments to ensure our agricultural sector remains strong and vibrant in the future," Udall said in a prepared statement.
"But the crushing burden of student loan debt is dragging down too many beginning farmers, and holding back young college graduates from coming home to start their own farms and ranches," said Udall.
"With the average age of farmers now nearing 60 years, and farmers over 65 outnumbering those under 35 by six to one, the next generation of farmers need Congress's support to succeed," said Martín Lemos, interim executive director of Young Farmers.
"Allowing student loan forgiveness for farmers and ranchers will remove a major hurdle our nation's young farmers face. Student loan debt creates barriers to accessing loans for land, equipment, or start-up costs, all necessary for a thriving agricultural business," Lemos added.
In Connecticut, one in four principal farm operators are considered "beginning farmers," meaning they are operating a farm with less than 10 years of experience. Between 2007 and 2012, Connecticut experienced a 30 percent increase in beginning farmers — one of the largest increases in the nation, the release said.