MEDIATION AND COUNSELING AVAILABLE TO HELP FARMERS THROUGH AG DOWNTURN.
Sluggish commodity prices, combined with drought and downpours, as well as uncertainties about trade agreements, are exacting a toll on farmers. “Farmers aren’t able to offset continued low prices with good yields and overall production,” says Forrest Buhler, Kansas Agriculture Mediation Services, Manhattan. “Our wheat production is expected to be down because of drought, so the bushels won’t be there.”
Forty states have a USDA ag mediation program staffed with trained and impartial mediators to help review and discuss legal and financial conflicts and to identify options to resolve disputes with lenders. The services are free, but in some states, the lender must initiate the process.
“We’re seeing more carryover debt again this year,” Buhler says. “Many farmers have been through restructuring once or twice, and now there isn’t enough equity or cash flow to service it. We’re starting to see farmers with negative net worth. When they’re out of options, liquidation of assets and bankruptcy are discussed.”
Financial counselors and farm advocates in several states use FINPACK, a financial software package, to analyze operations. Referrals to Kansas State’s one-on-one Farm Analyst Program are up again this year, Buhler says.
Mental health referrals are available through most ag mediation services. In Wisconsin, a Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection program offers vouchers for one-on-one mental health counseling.
“Requests for vouchers are up signifi-
cantly from one year ago,” says Mike Lochner, senior ag program specialist at the Wisconsin Farm Center Hotline, operated by the department.
Lochner says about 45% to 50% of calls involve financing issues, including being denied by lenders. “An additional 10% to 15% are dairy farmers with concerns about being dropped by milk processors,” he says.
At Iowa Concern, administered by Iowa State University Extension, callers are asking about available resources. “Our hotline staff is available 24-7,” says Tammy Jacobs, coordinator.
Ag Help Hotlines
• Illinois Agriculture Mediation Program: 618/549-1200 Ext. 1001 • Rural Services of Indiana, Inc.: 574/299-9460
• Iowa Concern: 800/447-1985 • Iowa Mediation Services, Inc.: 515/331-8081
• Kansas Ag Mediation Services: 800/321-3276
• Minnesota Farm & Rural Helpline: 833/600-2670 • Missouri Agricultural Mediation
Program: 573/751-5520 • Nebraska Department of Agriculture Negotiations Program: 800/446-4071 • Nebraska Rural Response Hotline: 800/464-0258 • New York State Ag Mediation Program: 518/687-2240 or 866/669-7267
• New York Farm Net: 800/547-3276
• North Dakota Mediation Service: 844/642-4752; 701/328-4158 • North Dakota 211 Help Line Mental Health Association in North Dakota: 800/472-2911 • North Dakota Agricultural Mediation Services: 800/642-4757 or 701/328-2061
• South Dakota Ag Mediation Program: 605/773-5436 or 605/280-4745 • South Dakota Rural Help Line: 800/664-1349 • Wisconsin Farm Center Hotline: 800/942-2474