The average age of the American farmer is 58.3 years – it has been climbing for more than 30 years. Over the next 25 years, more than 700,000 new farmers will be needed to replace retirees. In part due to rising costs of education and land, the number of young farmers only increased by 1,220 in the five-year period between 2007 and 2012. Only 6 percent of farmers are under 35 years old.
A recent survey by the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), a coalition of more than 60,000 farmers, ranchers and consumers, found that young farmers with student loan debt owed an average of $35,000. Nearly a third of survey respondents reported that their student loans are delaying or preventing them from farming.
Organic food maker Clif Bar & Company and NYFC are leading a joint effort to raise awareness, highlight the importance of young farmers, and encourage people nationwide to request Congress’ support of The Young Farmer Success Act of 2015 (H.R. 2590). If passed, the Act would add farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which forgives the balance of student loans for farmers who make 10 years of income-driven student loan payments. 100 farming organizations support the bill.
“We’re calling on Congress to provide the same student loan assistance offered to teachers, doctors and other public servants,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute, a young farmer and executive director/co-founder of NYFC. “We are a generation of farmers committed to growing quality food and stewarding our land and resources. This work must be celebrated and supported as a vital service to our nation.”
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As part of the initiative, Clif Bar is donating $35,000 to NYFC and has released the third video in its Farmers Speak series, which gives a voice to organic ingredient producers; the latest highlights the importance of family farms and young farmers from the perspective of one raisin producer. Clif Bar: Farmers Speak — A Call for the Next Generation features an increasingly rare example of a family farm that has been growing organic across four generations. Most NYFC members use organic and sustainable farming practices.
Clif Bar has also recently been encouraging the US government to take bold action at COP21, the UN climate conference taking place in Paris in December, by signing a joint letter from 10 global food companies to Congress published in the Washington Post and Financial Times earlier this month.