The National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) released the results of its most recent survey of young farmers. It finds that young farmers are working to conserve land and develop resilience in the face of the climate crisis, but still face major challenges including land access, health care costs, and student loan debt.
Conducted every five years since 2011, NYFC’s survey helps to understand the greatest challenges and opportunities young farmers face. Of the roughly 10,000 responses NYFC received for its most recent survey, more than 4,300 came from young farmers aged 40 and under. Approximately 76 percent of these young farmers are currently farming for income, while the remainder are aspiring or past farmers.
According to respondents, the most pressing issue for young farmers is land access, with 59 percent reporting that it is very or extremely challenging to find affordable land. This is particularly true for young BIPOC farmers, who report greater issues around land access compared to young white farmers.
Top concerns also include access to capital; health care costs for themselves, their families, or business partners; production costs; housing; and student loan debt. Nearly all challenges identified in the report disproportionately affect BIPOC farmers.
Despite these barriers, respondents say they are motivated to farm so they can better steward the land and conserve and regenerate the world’s natural resources. Around 83 percent say that “one of their farmers’ primary purposes for existing is engaging in conservation or regeneration.” That number is even higher (87 percent) for BIPOC farmers. Additionally, just under one third of all respondents report that their efforts are grounded in anti-racism work and cite this as a primary motivator.
“Young farmers, and particularly BIPOC farmers, are facing significant structural barriers that stand in the way of launching and building successful careers in agriculture. This survey reveals the daunting challenges they face—land access, climate impacts, systemic racism—but also the creative and powerful solutions they are putting into place in their communities,” Vanessa Garcia-Polanco, Policy Campaigns Co-Director for NYFC says in a press release.
The survey also helps to shine a light on the demographics of the nation’s young farmers. More than 63 percent of respondents are female, non-binary, and LGBTQ+. The report also represents a higher percentage of BIPOC voices (over 19 percent) compared to the 2017, when 10 percent of respondents identified as Indigenous and/or farmers of color.
To overcome the challenges young farmers face, NYFC’s report identifies federal and state-level policies that can support those working in agriculture. To address land access, NYFC recommends programs such as the Agricultural Easement Program, that will help farmers purchase development rights on farmland. They also call for increasing the funding for Farm Service Agency loans, which are often “the only credit option available” to young farmers, the report states.
“The results of this survey, and the related policy recommendations we are sharing today, are an invitation to Congress to continue working with us, and to lean in hard to build a more equitable food system with young, creative, innovative farmers in the lead,” David Howard, Policy Campaigns Co-Director tells Food Tank.
NYFC also hopes policymakers will address the financial burdens farmers are facing by improving health care options, maintaining rural housing programs, and adding farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to help eliminate young farmers’ student loan debt.
“As policymakers sit down to write the 2023 Farm Bill, I hope they pay attention to these survey findings. The next generation in agriculture needs federal policy support to keep growing healthy food for their communities through a pandemic, and to access the land, water, and other essentials they need to survive in this challenging industry,” Garcia-Polanco says.
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Photo courtesy of Zoe Schaeffer, Unsplash