Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What We're Hearing From Farmers

JoelNotes from 1-800-FARMAID hotline calls in March suggest that despite reports of a “booming farm economy,” it really ain’t quite booming for everybody:

A cotton farmer in the Southeast called to report that “farmers are struggling down here.” Now 62, he said, “We’re in worse shape than when I started and I’ve been farming all my life. We’re using up all our equity and it’s getting critical. Around here, farming, construction, mining, logging—people who dig in the dirt—if they aren’t helped, things are looking mighty dim.” He also said a local textile mill had recently closed and his wife lost her job after 30 years. Local banks, unwilling to lend, are blind to his argument that “farming isn’t only a business.”

A Midwest hay farmer who sells to a nearby dairy reports that his longtime local bank won’t finance him this year: “They’re saying that unless I file a lawsuit [for money owed] against the dairy I work with, they won’t consider me for a loan. But I refuse to do anything against that dairy because they’ve probably helped me more over the years than I helped them.” To this farmer, too, farming is more than only a business.

A Northern Plains grain and livestock producer called to inquire about grant programs he might tap into. He said his region has seen eight straight years of drought. With credit card debt piling up, an unresponsive local bank and no money left to buy seed for spring planting, he said, “Same ones who control our credit card debt make decisions about our credit rating. It’s a black hole we can’t climb out of.” Tough to do business, or anything else, from a black hole.

Even a banker contacted the hotline—this just doesn’t often happen—seeking help for three dozen struggling rice farmers near the Gulf Coast. With the high cost of fuel interrupting their ability to meet cash flow requirements for new loans, prospects for the new season look bleak.

Meanwhile, like new flowers blooming in springtime, beginning farmers in record numbers continue to contact the hotline and use our online Farmer Resource Network to seek assistance and support. Despite facing fundamental issues of land access and credit availability, their enthusiasm for the farming life is unbounded, a beautiful thing to behold. Like that Southern cotton farmer and Midwest hay farmer, they know that farming is not only a business and they’re ready and willing to get their hands dirty to prove it.

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