Montana Governor Steve Bullock today announced nearly $100,000 has been awarded to 12 applicants through the Montana Farmer Student Loan Assistance Program, which was created to encourage Montana’s college-educated youth to pursue a primary career in farming or ranching.
The program also seeks to reduce financial stress on farm and ranch operators and promote succession planning to preserve interest in the state’s agricultural future.
“Montana’s young ag producers are the future of our industry, and there are tremendous opportunities out there,” said MDA Director Ben Thomas. “We feel this program will help to remove some of the barriers young folks have when trying to get started in agriculture.”
To be considered for student loan assistance, the applicants had to obtain a degree from a Montana college or university and have an outstanding balance on a student loan for obtaining that degree. Scholarship recipients must also participate in the day-to-day operations of the farm or ranch where they are either the primary owner, heir or successor. They must also agree to operate a farm or ranch in Montana for at least 5 years.
“With the average age of producers in Montana at nearly 60 years old, it’s critical we invest in young folks and ensure there’s a path to a sustainable career in agriculture,” Governor Bullock said. “This program is vital to the future of Montana’s ag industry and supports our young producers by removing financial barriers and encouraging younger Montanans to pursue careers in farming and ranching.”
According to the USDA agricultural census, the average age of a farmer in Montana in 2017 was 58. Only 8 percent of farmers in Montana were under the age of 35 — in fact, there were almost four times more farmers over 65 than under 35.
The Montana Farmer Student Loan Assistance Program was actually originated at the collegiate level. The bill first surfaced in 2018 with the MSU Collegiate Young Farmers and Ranchers, who took the bill to the Montana Farm Bureau delegate session. During the 2019 legislative session as House Bill 431, the bill was sponsored by Representative Zach Brown.
“HB 431 was a win for young people and particularly rural communities across Montana,” Brown said. “Rural Montana depends on agriculture as its driving economic force. Hopefully this policy can help get young families back in small towns and rural areas.”
This is the first round of awards made through the program and determined by the Agriculture Development Council. Successful applicants will receive loan assistance for up to five years for qualified education loans. The next funding cycle will open in the Spring of 2021. For more information, visit agr.mt.gov/Student-Loan-Assistance-Program.
MT Dept. of Ag/Northern Ag Network