A Bill To Feed Farming Viability

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On March 1, the importance of food from field to fork was highlighted during the first annual Food Justice Summit in upstate New York. Here farmers struggled to understand why their work isn’t considered a public service.

The Young Farmers Success Act (H.R.1060), introduced to congress on February 15th of 2017, is still struggling today to become a law. Amending the Higher Education Act of 1965, this bill will now include full-time farm or ranch employees as a public service job so that they can be included in the loan forgiveness program. It is essential that this law is passed because farmers are critical to our nation’s well being.

Not enough young people are farming in rural America because of money pressures. While talking to farmers at the North Country Food Justice Summit, I found that many of them fear they will never have the chance to have a good retirement plan. According to a survey from the National Young Farmers Coalition, new farmers coming out of college owe an average of $35,000 in student loans–– and they aren’t having an easy time paying these loans off. According to PayScale, new farmers are making 16 percent less than the average wage of the graduating class of 2016–– $39,332 per year.

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One factor is money. Farmers only get 16 cents back from every dollar spent on the food they grow. The odds of farmers getting a higher profit has only gotten smaller since the 1980s. According to FarmAid, farmers saw a 45% drop in income between 2013 and 2016. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture expects their income to continue falling, farmers are feeling pressure in a strained farm economy. Farming is no longer viable as a full time career. Therefore, we need to create the proper benefits for our nation's young farmers so they can succeed in our economy.

Food is a necessity to our nation. On average, one U.S. farm feeds 165 people per year. According to the American Farm Bureau, “The global population is expected to increase to 9.7 billion by 2050, which means the world’s farmers will have to grow about 70% more food than what is now produced.” We need more farmers so that we can feed these people. Further, farmers help to support the economy. The American Farm Bureau also said that farmers in the U.S. account for about 1% of the U.S. GDP where in 2016, $135.5 billion of American agricultural products were exported.  Food is a necessity because it nourishes us and helps contribute to our economy; we must value it as we value our doctors for keeping us healthy.

The National Young Farmers Coalition said that even though the USDA has started to focus more on beginning farmers, only 6% of farmers are under 35 years old. This is important because our youth will solve our farming issues, and move us away from traditional ways of farming. Currently, “69% of the world's freshwater withdrawals are committed to agriculture,” says Global Agriculture. This makes a huge impact since our world’s largest freshwater systems are being depleted at an unsustainable rate. Not only does agriculture cause harm during its production process with water usage and runoff, but for food to get from farm to plate, the Center for Urban Education said it takes on average 1,500 miles. There are other issues as well, like genetic drift, superweeds, and food insecurity. 

Do tax payers have to bear the financial burden? What about lowering worker wages or raising food prices? First off, H.R.1060 makes benefits more widespread to farmers, and puts public money towards something directly benefiting them. For a farmer, competition is tough, so raising the price of their product will drive away customers to another farm. According to the New Food Economy, lowering worker wages will leave farmers with less workers on top of the already diminishing worker population. Farmers have some funds available to them such as the Open Space fund, Clipper Fund, Co-ops, but these funds only apply to certain farmers who qualify. Implementing this law will kill two birds with one stone-– it will provide money for farmers to keep their jobs viable, while also providing a greater incentive for workers because there would be a opportunity to raise their wages.

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The New Food Economy recently reported that the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program approval letters may be invalid because it is hard to define a non-profit or government employee. Therefore, congress has reason to delay the expansion of farmers in the program. Even if this slows down progress, the law shouldn’t be stopped. We will eventually have to reestablish what groups are considered a public service. So, by the time the law is ready to be passed, the problem could be resolved. 

Food is a broad term with issues that touch on many aspects of society. The Food Justice Summit is one of the early steps to acknowledge and attempt to stop these challenges in their tracks. We need to promote jobs in agriculture because food is a necessity for our nourishment and for the economy.

What can you do? To help push H.R.1060 through congress,  et your representatives know you want this bill to pass into law! Write a letter, organize a petition or protest, or you can join a movement such as: National Young Farmers Coalition , Food Tank, New Food Economy, Heart and Grain, or Farm Aid. You can also incorporate support into your daily habits. Volunteer at a farm, buy local, and talk about the issue by bringing this bill up  to others.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
Posted by Jacquelyn Nutter on Jul 12, 2018 5:39 AM America/Chicago

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