Helena, Mont. – The Montana Department of Agriculture is now accepting applications for the Montana Agriculture Student Loan Assistance Program. The program was established with the signing of HB 431 during the 2019 legislative session. Applications can be submitted at funding.mt.gov and the application deadline is June 1, 2020. More information, including eligibility requirements can be found on MDA’s website.

Farmers and ranchers are a critical part of our economy and they dedicate their lives to feeding the country. In Montana, agricultural producers steward over 58 million acres of land and are critical to rural communities. According to the USDA agricultural census, the average age of a farmer in Montana in 2017 was 58. Only 8 percent of farmers in our state were under the age of 35 — in fact, there were almost four times more farmers over 65 than under 35.

“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.”

The Montana Agriculture Student Loan Assistance Program was developed to encourage Montana’s college-educated youth to pursue a primary career in farming or ranching; reduce financial stress on Montana’s farm and ranch operators; and promote succession planning to preserve interest in Montana’s agricultural future. Successful applicants may receive loan assistance for up to five years for qualified education loans. All awards will be made by the Agriculture Development Council.

To be considered for student loan assistance, the applicants must have obtained a degree from a Montana college or university and have an outstanding balance on a student loan for obtaining that degree. Applicants 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.

In the Montana legislature, the bill was sponsored by Rep. Zach Brown (D-Bozeman), who represents half of Montana State University, including the College of Agriculture building. The Collegiate Young Farmers and Ranchers of MSU were also proponents of the bill throughout its process.

“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.”

 

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MT Dept. of Ag / MT Farm Bureau / Northern Ag Network

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