'Young Farmers NY' provides financial help for St. Lawrence County's future farmers
Tuesday, October 14, 2014 - 9:04 am

New ‘Young Farmers NY’ providing incentives for farmers starting out or hanging on in St. Lawrence County and around the state

Parts of the new New York State “Young Farmers NY” program—a plan aimed at addressing issues related to the advancing average age of New York farmers and preserving the future of family farming—are being made available.

Parts of the program launched include more than $600,000 in grants and a loan forgiveness program, both aimed at helping young farmers overcome obstacles to give them a greater chance of a successful career in agriculture.

“It’s hard to imagine a world without farmers,” said Senate Agriculture Chair State Senator Patty Ritchie, Republican from Heuvelton who represents the western half of St. Lawrence County including Ogdensburg, Canton and Gouverneur. “But it’s something that could become a reality if we don’t take proactive steps towards addressing the issue of our state’s aging farmer population.”

Ritchie said she believes the program, which she sponsored in the Senate, “will give those who are just starting out a real incentive for joining the ranks of our state’s hardworking farmers and more importantly, will serve to protect our state’s biggest industry for many years to come.”

The following components of the Young Farmers NY plan are now available and taking applications:

• New York State New Farmers Grant Fund: Administered by Empire State Development, this $614,000 fund will be utilized to provide grants of up to $50,000 to eligible beginning farmers. Successful applicants may use funds for the lease or purchase of farm equipment, supplies and other necessities. Those interested can visit www.esd.ny.gov for more information and to apply. Applications must be received by January 28, 2015.

• New York State Young Farmers Loan Forgiveness Incentive Program: Administered by the Higher Education Service Corporation (HESC), this program provides loan forgiveness awards to students who commit to farming careers after graduation from an approved New York State college or university. Applications and more information on the program are available at www.hesc.ny.gov and the deadline for applying is December 15, 2014.

In addition to these programs, the initiative also includes changes to the estate tax to help the transition of family farms from one generation to the next, as well as increased funding for in-school, agriculture leadership programs such as Future Farmers of America.

Ritchie developed her Young Farmers NY plan in response to research that shows the average age of New York farmers is increasing, as fewer young people pursue farming careers.

According to new data from the USDA Census of Agriculture, the average age of New York farmers is now 57.1 years. There are two farmers aged 65 and older for each one under age 35. This and other factors are leading a trend to farmland being lost forever to development.

About 50,000 acres of farmland were lost in New York in each of the last five years, the federal agency reported.