WASHINGTON — After hearing directly from farmers that student loans often present a barrier to individuals who are new to farming or are looking to start their own farms, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) introduced new legislation, called the Student Loan Forgiveness for Farmers and Ranchers Act, to create a loan forgiveness program for beginning farmers and ranchers with less than 10 years of experience, as well as other groups such as women, veterans, and minority farmers. The Murphy-Udall Student Loan Forgiveness for Farmers and Ranchers Act will serve as an incentive for farmers to enter, and stay, in the agricultural industry, and strengthen opportunities for farmers to grow successful businesses. Rep. Joe Courtney (CT-2) has introduced similar legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Connecticut’s farmers keep our economy running – they create good jobs and provide high-quality fresh produce to Connecticut families and shoppers around the country,” said Murphy. “But I’ve heard from new and aspiring farmers around our state that staying in farming is a challenge, especially for those with thousands of dollars of student loan debt. We introduced this bill to help incentivize Connecticut’s new farmers to plant crops, buy equipment, and grow their businesses. There’s more we need to do in the 2018 Farm Bill, and I’ll keep visiting with farmers across Connecticut to get their suggestions.”

“New Mexico needs young college graduates to be able to come home and start their own farms and ranches – it’s critical to our rural communities and to the future of our way of life,” said Udall. “But too many young graduates are trapped in our country’s student loan debt crisis: They can’t afford not to go to college, but when they graduate, they can’t afford to come home and start a farm. Our bill will make it easier for young people who are interested in farming to pursue their dreams by creating a loan forgiveness program for beginning farmers and ranchers. It will allow them to focus on investing in their futures and growing their businesses and our economy, rather than paying down a mountain of college debt.”

Will O'Meara is an assistant farm manager at Waldingfield Farm in Washington, CT, and a steering committee member of the New Connecticut Farmer Alliance, a regional chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition. Will, who is currently paying back his student loans, said, “The skills and knowledge I gained attaining my degree are crucial for the next generation of farmers, as we face a changing climate, limited land to purchase or lease, and intensifying resource scarcity. However, my salary as a farm manager is modest, and my student loan payments amount to over a third of my income after taxes. Beyond adding to a general sense of financial dread, these loans have contributed to a serious delay in starting and investing in my own farm business. Congress should pass the Student Loan Forgiveness for Farmers and Ranchers Act, because we need to send the message that a career in farming is both valued and viable. There is a generation of farmers waiting to be dedicated stewards of the soil and water, growers of food for their community, and active participants in vibrant, small business-driven economies.”

"Student loan debt has been one of the biggest obstacles I have faced in starting my own farm. At the same time, I wouldn’?t have had the skills to start and run my farm without a college education. But as I look to grow my business, I’m laughed out of the room by lenders because of my student loan debt. If I could get assistance with my student loans, then lenders might stop looking at me only as a risk, and start looking instead at my business plan and the opportunities it could provide,” said Casey Holland, Chispas Farm in Albuquerque, NM, and board member of the Rio Grande Farmers Coalition, a chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition.

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 15% increase in beginning farmers – one of the largest increases in the nation.