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Legislation Aims to Help New Farmers Pay for Education Costs
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 02/28/2017

Two state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would create a student loan reimbursement program for new farmers who may need help covering the costs of their continuing education. Rep. Mark Spreitzer of Beloit and Sen. Janis Ringhand from Evansville say their 'New Farmer Student Loan Assistance Program' would reimburse up to $30,000 of student debt for those who commit to operating a small or medium-sized farm in Wisconsin for at least five years.

"Agriculture is central to Wisconsin's heritage and to our economy, largely due to the efforts of our farmers," Spreitzer said. "We must look for ways to encourage a sustainable future for farming in Wisconsin. In order to continue Wisconsin's strong tradition of family-supporting farms that feed our state and beyond, we must recruit and retain new farmers from diverse backgrounds."

Ringhand adds that whether through an associate's or bachelor's degree, a technical college diploma, or the Farm & Industry Short Course, higher education is essential to the success of today's new farmers.

"In Wisconsin, about 70 percent of students graduating with a bachelor's degree borrow to fund their education," Ringhand said. "Upon graduation, the average debt is between $30,000 and $32,000 for those attending public and private institutions, respectively."

The program would promote sustainable growth and retention of new farmers in Wisconsin. The recipients will be selected by a council consisting of representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, University of Wisconsin-Extension, Farm Service Agency, and both the agricultural and higher education lending sectors.

With the average age of a farm operator in Wisconsin now being just over 54 years old, supporters say more needs to be done to find new farmers to take their place.

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