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.
Thomas Jefferson is reputed to have said in his 1801 presidential inauguration address: "Lady Liberty will survive as long as freedom of speech is on her left side and civil discourse is on her right side." Many Americans on all sides of the political spectrum are concerned about the erosion of founding principles of the United States. They perceive threats to their freedom of speech and to the civil and fair debate of issues among themselves and by elected representatives. Interpretations of the recent election reveals the concerns of Americans, and their varying points of view.
Six months ago, a man in his late 20s, "Joe," who farms with his father, "Bill," asked for advice. They maintain an 850-acre corn/soybean farming operation and produce about 3,500 pigs annually in their 1980s-constructed farrow-to-finish facilities and about 50 calves in their cow/calf herd. While I changed their names and several identifying circumstances, the substance of the issues that Joe revealed are portrayed accurately. Bill's mother was already deceased when his father passed away eight months ago.
For most people the holiday season is a happy time when we renew ties with friends and relatives, savor good food and drink and share in the joy of giving and receiving gifts. It's particularly fun to share in the joy of children taking delight in Santa Claus and exploring the presents Santa thoughtfully remembered. Why then do many people feel melancholy and sometimes downright depressed during or after the holiday season? Are the holiday blues a myth?
Most parents have uttered something like "You should behave because Santa is watching," to cajole their children into complying with parental requests that the kids often disregard, except during Christmas season. When my parents attempted this ploy, my brothers and I already knew what was up. We usually disregarded the threat unless something we really wanted for Christmas that we had not already discovered was hanging in the balance.