Republicans ignored a big base with no plan for US agriculture
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Unsurprisingly, several key issues were either altogether neglected or received little airtime during the Republican National Convention this week. Given that the GOP relies heavily on rural supporters, the lack of discussion of Agricultural policy is perhaps one of the most glaring omissions.

Agriculture is critical to supporting our rural economies. Twelve percent of all jobs in low-density rural areas are in agriculture, forestry, and fishing. Agriculture-driven economic growth in rural areas led the recovery from the Great Recession, creating jobs and other economic ripple effects across rural America.

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In spite of the benefits farming accrues to its local community, the sector is still facing steep challenges. Net farm income is down again this year, forecast to dip to the lowest level since 2002. At the same time, we are not bringing enough new, young people into farming careers. American farmers average 58 years old – the oldest in the history of our country.

As older farmers retire, nearly two-thirds of farmland is at risk of falling out of production in the next 25 years — about half of US land area is used for farming. Without the active management of farmland we will lose the food we eat and the environmental stewardship farmers provide, not to mention rural jobs and anchor businesses for rural communities. If we are going to build a next generation of farmers in order to prevent this from happening, we need policy solutions that address the greatest structural challenges that prevent new farmers from entering the profession — access to credit and land. 

Unfortunately, the debate culminating in Cleveland this week has been remarkably silent on this issue — it is an enormous missed opportunity. Rural America overwhelmingly votes Republican, and even more, of all rural residents farmers are some of the most stalwart Republicans. By not addressing the challenges that farmers face Republicans ignored a critical constituency, and at the same time a critical problem facing Americans and their food supply.

One thing that Republicans assembling in Cleveland can do right now to aid farmers is support the Young Farmer Success Act (HR 2590). This bill, which NYFC has been championing for over a year, helps farmers manage their student loan debt. Like many Americans, young farmers are struggling with record levels of student loans. 

Unlike many Americans, however, farmers have chosen a career that relies on leveraging credit and investing in a risky, capital-intensive business. When NYFC surveyed its members on this issue, 28% of respondents said student loan pressure prevented them from growing their business and 20% reported being unable to obtain credit because of their student loans. The Young Farmer Success Act allows farmers to pay a reasonable monthly payment, limits the long-term liability of student debt, and frees up resources to invest in a farm.

The future of agriculture – and rural Republican voters – relies on building the next generation of farmers. This is no small task. Farming is a difficult career and the barriers to entry are high. It takes hard work and sacrifice to build a career in farming. It also takes policy solutions that lower the barriers to entry and put farming within reach for young Americans. Republicans could have make progress on this, starting in Cleveland.  

Hansen is a policy analyst for the National Young Farmers Coalition.


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