The average American farmer is nearly 60, and many are starting to eye retirement. As a result, a significant portion of U.S. farmland is expected to change hands in the coming years. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted ten percent of fields would transition ownership before 2019, a figure the American Farmland Trust estimated that over a third of fields would be passed to new owners by 2035.

Plenty of younger people are eager to build careers in farming, but more land up for grabs won’t necessarily make it easier to get started. Access to land and capital are two of the biggest hurdles facing first-generation farmers today, and some say they face an extra barrier to both — student loan debt.

With lawmakers and President Biden mulling the merits of canceling some debt, farmers and advocates say loan forgiveness could make it easier for millennial farmers to build their businesses.

“We know like good farmland is in rural areas, but there are not good jobs that can pay for all the student debt that you have in rural communities,” says Vanessa Garcia Polanco, a federal policy associate with the National Young Farmers Coalition.

The National Young Farmers Coalition says that the biggest challenges facing first-generation farmers today are access to land and money. Members have consistently ranked student debt as a top-three barrier to getting both. A 2017 survey by the nonprofit found that more than 80% had college degrees, but fewer than half owned all of their land. Polanco says beginning farmers of color can face steeper barriers, as non-white students in the U.S. are more likely to have more student debt and struggle to repay it.

Read the full article about young farmers by Christina Stella at Harvest Public Media.