MENOMONIE, Wis. (WEAU)- Small farm operations are declining in Wisconsin, and now, a new bill is being introduced to encourage more young people to choose farming as a career by providing up to $30,000 for student loan payments.
The New Farmers Student Loan Assistance Program would provide money to new farmers, who have received an associates or bachelor’s degree, or attended the UW-Madison short-course farming industry program. Over a span of five years, farmers would receive payments for their student loans, to help them be successful in farming and investing in that career, rather than paying off their student loans.
“In order to maintain a future for family supported farms in Wisconsin, this is one way to do that by providing an incentive and also making sure that the student loans don't become a barrier to people who already want to go into farming, but are worried about how they’re going to make it financially by making those monthly payments,” Representative Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) said, who introduced the bill.
And whether you were raised on a farm, are planning to return to the family-business, or even if you've had little to no experience in the industry, the program is available for those interested in farming. You just have to commit to five years of farming, demonstrate a financial need, and have a business plan or show preparedness for farming either through training or a relationship with a mentor.
The new bill hopes to get rid of financial stress, one of the biggest reasons small family-run farms are on the decline.
UW-Stout student Austin Stensen, whose family farms in Augusta, knows that financial burden too well; as they had to sell their cows in December.
“Farming is a lot of heart breaks, kind of a risky business to stay into; you don't know what you're going to run into and definitely kind of a hard market to stay into,” Stensen said.
Stensen adds if this new program was available he would definitely take advantage of it.
“I think I would,” Stensen said. “It’s definitely a good opportunity. School’s kind of a risky decision to make of how you're going to come out of it, and I think it’s even more risky doing school then deciding you want to be a farmer too.”
The bill has bipartisan support and will be heard by committee in the next two weeks.
“I really think this helps Wisconsin overall because we depend on family farms,” Spreitzer said. “Farming is a huge part of our heritage and our economy, and it feeds everybody whether they come from a farming background or not, so it really is vital to our state that we recruit and retain a new generation of farmers.”
Spreitzer says he then hopes after the bill is heard by committee, it will then move for a public hearing.