The average age of the American farmer is over 58 years old.
Despite younger generations continued obsession with farmers markets, farm-to-table dining, urban farming and the like, getting young people to actually take up a career in farming has been an ongoing struggle: The average age of a farmer is now over 58 years old. Some lawmakers have even taken up the cause of engaging a new crop, if you will, of farmers. Earlier this year, on the federal level, members of the house reintroduced the Young Farmer Success Act which seeks to add farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Meanwhile, on the state level, Minnesota has approved a different tactic: providing tax incentives to established farmers who sell land or other resources to new farmers.
Minnesota’s Beginning Farmer Tax Credits, signed into law last month by Governor Mark Dayton, offers a series of incentives to owners of agricultural assets – be it land, livestock, facilities or machinery – if they sell or rent these assets to a beginning farmer who they are not related to by blood or marriage. (Those “beginning farmers” also must meet seven eligibility requirements.) The tax credit amounts to 5 percent of the sale price, 10 percent of the rental income over the first three years, or 15 percent of that income if it’s a share-rent agreement. Modern Farmer called this new law a “first of its kind in the nation.”
In Minnesota, only about 4 percent of the state’s farmers are under 35 years old. That’s even below the nation average of 6 percent. Though plenty of reasons exist why young people don’t get into farming, Matthew Fitzgerald, a 25-year-old famer who helped found the Central Minnesota chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition, told Modern Farmer that access to land is an often overlooked barrier to entry. “The number one issue across the board, whether you’re in Minnesota, Georgia, or Colorado, is access to land,” he said. “The new program is win-win. It supports retiring farmers through a financial benefit and helps beginning farmers to hopefully get onto the land.”
The hope is that Minnesota’s new law can serve as blueprint for similar laws in other states, as well as to demonstrate how the government can help support young farmers. Along those lines, Fitzgerald was part of a group who recently went to Washington, DC, to push for the interests of young farmers to be addressed in the 2018 farm bill – including the aforementioned loan forgiveness program. “I think there’s an increased recognition of the need for access to farmland and other resources for beginning farmers,” he was quoted as saying. “Hopefully it’s becoming more and more clear to lawmakers that no matter which party you belong to this is a positive thing.”