Many large and small commercial farm operators in the U.S. and worldwide are struggling to make ends meet currently. The 2017 farming year looks like it could be a "turnaround" year, but there will be casualties among some overly-indebted producers who want to continue farming and will have to cease or restructure significantly in order to keep a foot in agricultural production.
The U.S. Congress is debating whether to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and start over with new legislation, or to fix the shortcomings while continuing its useful parts. When the ACA was implemented in 2010, it was meant to reduce disparities in access to healthcare between rural and urban America, among its many provisions.
On July 24, 1972, Marilyn and I reached a high point in our lives. It was also one of our most dangerous days ever. We had been married only a month. Marilyn already had her master's degree in psychiatric nursing and was serving on the faculty of Weber State University while I was pursuing my doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Utah. With another married couple and their two teenage sons, we attempted to ascend the highest point in Utah, Kings Peak, at 13,527 feet in elevation.
A thoughtful friend who is moving on determinedly after her farmer-husband died of suicide several years ago told me recently how moments of contemplative silence speak loudly to her about her life's purposes. "Silence," she says, "offers us teachable moments." Her insights taught me much while I assisted her with her devastating loss, and continue to inspire me whenever we communicate. I am sharing several of her insights, and a few of mine, about what may help all of us to find direction in our lives during rough—and also good—times.
A January 2017 article, "Getting Ready for Farm Loan Renewal" by Tina Barrett in the University of Nebraska publication, Crop Watch, prompted me to write this addition to the ongoing Farm and Ranch Life series about how current farm financial stress affects agricultural producers and what we can do to work our way through difficult times.
Farm economists and lenders last October estimated that about 20 percent of farmers would have difficulty paying annual farm operating and/or long-term loan obligations which are due this year. The emails and phone calls I have received lately bear out their estimates. Farming overall is in a recession. Specialized producers with ready customers for their goods, wealthy producers with cash reserves, and still others are faring satisfactorily.
During the past two weeks, I received four requests for assistance with farm economic uncertainty. Two inquiries came from farmers with grave concerns about their financial situations; another came from a Farm Service Agency loan officer and one came from a farm business accountant. I can't offer as much advice as I would like to these requesters, for the U.S. economy overall is in unfamiliar territory, with a new president and Congress still figuring out agendas and roles. Planning a new federal farm bill also contributes unknowns to their deliberations.
Cattle have contributed to the survival of humans for thousands of years, initially as animals our hunter-gatherer ancestors pursued for food, tools and leather, then raised for the past 10,000 years or so as livestock for meat, milk and as draft animals. Cattle also have become an indicator of economic status. In bygone eras and still for traditional Masa in central Africa and several other African tribal groups, cattle are a form of currency. The right of Masa men to marry well in their culture hinges on the number of cattle owned by prospective suitors.
Raising cattle was one of the best parts of farming for me. In particular, I enjoyed producing and contributing to high-quality beef animals in our registered Simmental herd for quite a few years, but not for as many years as I would have liked. Although producing breeding stock was profitable and fun, the need to improve the behavioral health of people engaged in agriculture was more urgent than raising cattle. Taking care of my fellow farmers felt like my life's calling; I had to step up.
Every community, large or small, has outstanding people who take charge of community events and set the tone for social standards in their communities. Rural communities where everyone knows each other have particularly strong figures who are respected by nearly all their residents and who are looked to for advice and help when local issues need to be addressed.