Iowa U.S. Senator Joni Ernst wants to find ways to get more kids interested and involved in agriculture and believes a tweak in the tax code could help do it.

Ernst and Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran last week introduced a bill that would amend the tax code to exclude from gross income the first $5,000 earned by students who are 18 years old or younger on agricultural projects through 4-H or FFA. The measure is called the Agriculture Students Encourage, Acknowledge, Reward, Nurture (EARN) Act.

By offering the tax change, the senators hope to ultimately spur more people to return to live and work in rural communities.

Learning about ag

"We must encourage our youth to get involved and learn more about modern agriculture," Ernst said. "A student who doesn’t come from a farming background may not realize that the agricultural industry has a demand for everything from food scientists to design engineers, and from agronomists to drone pilots."

The EARN Act is important because it provides an incentive for students to get involved in 4-H and FFA that might not otherwise have an interest in these ag-based programs, Ernst said. The agricultural projects through 4-H and FFA encourage personal growth and responsibility, while also providing the opportunity for students to generate modest revenues, Ernst noted.

That money, Ernst said, is often used to finance future agricultural projects, deposited in savings or used to fund a college education.

The EARN Act would protect students involved in 4-H and FFA and the money they earn from the IRS by lowering or eliminating the tax burden on the students, Ernst said.

"I was in 4-H growing up, and my daughter is currently involved in the program, so I’ve witnessed firsthand the leadership, communication, creativity and business management skills that it instills," she said. "With the average age of the U.S. farmer approaching 60, and only 2 percent of the American population engaged in farming and ranching, it is imperative that we provide encouragement to young people to consider a career of feeding and fueling not only our nation, but the world."

Agricultural projects completed by students under the supervision of 4-H clubs and FFA chapters may include showing animals at local and state fairs, growing and harvesting crops, building agricultural mechanic projects, and many other possibilities offered to students.

Supporters of the legislation include National FFA Organization, National 4-H Council, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union and National Young Farmers Coalition.