Did you know the next world war is likely to be fought over food? Economists predict Americans will begin to experience food scarcity as early as 2030 if current trends in agriculture continue. As a military spouse whose family continues to experience the life-changing effects of a commodity-driven war, I believe securing our food supply is a crucial mission.
In fact, American agriculture is already facing a potentially devastating shortage: The number of farmers across America is declining.
The average age of farmers in the U.S. is 58; only 6 percent of farmers are 35 or younger. Between 2007 and 2012, we added only 1,220 new young farmers. Such troubling stats have many asking the question, “Who is going to feed America?”
I, for one, would like to do my part. I’ve wanted to be a farmer as long as I can remember, so I went to college in pursuit of two degrees I believed would prepare me to produce high quality agriculture products in an economically sound way, a B.S. in animal and dairy science and an MBA. Agriculture and business are extremely intertwined.
When it came time to start my own farm, I used my degrees on a daily basis, but they came at a cost. I paid for as much of my education as I could up-front, but I also had to take out student loans, and like many young farmers, those loans are now one of my biggest barriers to success.
In a survey conducted by the National Young Farmers Coalition, 53 percent of farmers who have student loans said it was a struggle to make monthly payments and 30 percent of respondents said they weren’t farming or delayed farming because of their student loans.
My student loans have prevented me from receiving the financing I need to invest in land and equipment, and I work two jobs in addition to farming so I can make my student loan payments. Any business owner can tell you it’s hard to get started without enough time or money.
There is a proposed solution that gives me hope. Farmers could be added to an existing program called the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program that allows public service professionals, such as nurses and teachers, to apply for student loan forgiveness after making 10 years of loan payments. With over 37 million people in the U.S. struggling with student loan debt — a liability currently preventing many would-be farmers from entering the industry — this solution could help prevent the predicted food scarcity and subsequent international conflicts that may follow.
The Young Farmer Success Act (House Bill 2590) is a bipartisan bill introduced in the House last year that would add farming to the list of professions covered by the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
I have reached out to Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran of Kansas, requesting they support introduction of a similar bill in the Senate, and I encourage you to do the same. Supporting the Young Farmers Success Act will help secure America’s food supply and protect national security for generations to come.
“I have always said there is only one thing that can bring our nation down — our dependence on foreign countries for food and energy,” John Salazar, a Republican representative from Colorado, has said. “Agriculture is the backbone of our economy.”
Let’s help protect our country’s future by empowering beginning farmers to produce the food products our communities so desperately need.
Hannah Becker is a first-generation farmer and master cattle producer in Franklin County, Kan.