According to the latest agricultural census, the average age of the American farmer is 58 years old, and it is trending upwards. Meanwhile, there are more mouths to feed and people to clothe than ever, and farming and ranching remain challenging – and too often thankless – work. I am thankful for the men and women who put in these long hours to provide for Americans and keep food on our tables.
With that said, I am also well aware of the importance of inspiring and maintaining a new generation. The need for a secure and steady food supply intensifies each year and perhaps exponentially as we look to the future. All of these factors underscore my belief, along with my colleagues in Congress, that America must invest in young people involved in farming and ranching.
Agriculture is one of the few places remaining where sons and daughters work side-by-side with moms and dads, parents and grandparents. For decades, families in Texas, and all across the country, have passed down skills and knowledge from one generation to the next. In this way, longstanding agriculture traditions are preserved and values are shared. Unfortunately, it has increasingly become less of the norm for young people to take up the family business and continue in their parents’ line of work. The number of new farmers decreased by nearly 20 percent from the 2007 to the 2012 agricultural census, and we expect to see another decrease in the next survey. For young people whose dream is to run a farm or ranch just like their parents or grandparents did, we should do everything possible to empower them to achieve that goal and preserve that way of life.
As Congress works to address the multitude of issues facing our country, encouraging and supporting young farmers and ranchers should remain a high priority. This includes aiding youth agricultural organizations, like 4-H and FFA, that give our kids more opportunities to stay involved in agriculture, while reinforcing the lessons learned at home such as responsibility, teamwork, and the value of caring for one’s neighbor. Through 4-H and FFA projects, such as showing animals at local and state fairs, growing and harvesting crops, and building agricultural mechanical projects, students develop the vocational, technical, and business skills needed to successfully farm and ranch.
Students often generate a modest revenue from these projects as well – money that is invested in future projects, deposited in savings, or put towards a college education. Recognizing the value of these groups and the education they provide, I introduced legislation - along with my colleagues in the Senate - designed to incentivize more students to begin and continue participation in programs such as 4-H and FFA projects. The Student Agriculture Protection Act (SAPA) would allow these student farmers, 18 years old or younger, to keep more of the money they earn on all qualified projects by exempting from taxable income the first $5,000 earned. This tax incentive will encourage more young men and women to complete 4-H and FFA projects that can lead to successful long-term agricultural careers. For those student farmers below this earning level, this bill would also eliminate the complicated tax filing process while allowing them to keep more of their hard-earned money to help further their education. The Senate introduced the same bill, titled the Agriculture Students Encourage, Acknowledge, Reward, Nurture (EARN) Act.
We can demonstrate pride in our future farmers and ranchers by investing in the next generation by passing this legislation. Farming kids across the country today represent the future of agriculture, and enabling them to succeed means we all succeed. The ideals we want our kids to learn – hard work, perseverance and cooperation with others – are exemplified in the American children growing up on farms across the country. These ideals are worth preserving; and we should do everything we can to encourage our children to continue their farming traditions.