It looks like 2016 will be a "down time" economically and perhaps psychologically for some-but not all farm producers, as indicated in last week's column. There are beneficial options to explore for economic gain, and for coping with the stress that usually accompanies a "rough period."
This article examines information resources that agricultural producers can consider as they look for ways to minimize costs, maximize profits and to manage personal and financial stress. A first step is to ask for others' ideas and advice.
Sometimes farm people are reluctant to seek outside advice because they prefer to rely on themselves, or out of fear of exposing vulnerability. The art of asking for help is a valuable skill that improves with practice; it increases options while it also reduces anxiety by sharing stress.
In order to maximize options, start by collecting information from multiple sources and ask only trusted advisers to help review the options. Involving multiple inputs and reviewers improves the odds of finding the best solution.
Land-grant university Extension offices, says Ann Johanns, an Iowa State University Extension program specialist in farm management, are a good place to launch a search for assistance.
Many states' Extension services offer farm financial planning, which consists of one-on-one, confidential, financial counseling with a trained Extension consultant who can assist with a computerized analysis of the farm business using FINPACK software, and referral to other Extension programs or outside services that may be useful.
Farm financial planning helps take the guesswork out of whether a change in the farming operation would increase profitability and improve cash flow. Most lenders now request a FINPACK analysis before extending further credit.
The Farm Credit Administration offers some types of farm financial advice. An easy way to access their services is through local Farm Service Agency offices.
The Farm Credit Administration is not a USDA program. It is an independent agency created in 1933 by President Franklin Roosevelt to provide loans and financial management assistance to hard-pressed but credit-worthy borrowers engaged in farming.
Sometimes viewed as a lender of last resort for farmers, usually this is seldom the case. Their advisers can generally offer information about farm real estate, lending institutions and advice about farm financial options.
Farm Service Agencies, which are USDA offices, also can offer assistance ferreting out farming options that might pay off better than operating the land for agricultural production.
Moreover, check with local banks, but be sure to ask if their agricultural loan officers have experience farming and/or college training in farm business, because this background goes a long way toward establishing rapport and improving their usefulness to agricultural borrowers.
Two farming friends whom I visit with periodically have developed post-traumatic stress disorder from adverse treatment they received from the bank officials they had to work with because their loan officers didn't understand farming. They can hardly bear to enter a bank to this day even though their trauma occurred years ago and they are successful farmers.
Ask trusted people for advice. Sometimes it is easier to approach respected local folks, such as livestock veterinarians, agribusiness people and wise experienced farmers.
The "school of hard knocks" has helped many-usually seasoned-people involved in agriculture to gain the savvy needed to offer perspective, and they usually don't ask for pay. They know.
A few professional veterinarians I am aware of have obtained supplemental education in public health or counseling to enable them to assist their clients with the deaths of beloved animals and other stressful issues of livestock owners.
Conduct online searches for professional organizations of farm business consultants, coaches, counselors, mediators or whomever is needed to bolster the farm operation. Many local or state organizations, such as American Farm Bureau Federation affiliates, sustainable farming organizations and farm business associations regularly sponsor conferences, workshops and online webinars for interested people.
Two examples of successful state organizations I am familiar with that assist their state residents with business planning are the Practical Farmers of Iowa and the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota; there are many others. Also consider contacting university, college and community college agriculture departments and their instructors.
The negative stigma about asking for help, including mental/behavioral health care, is diminishing. Yet, concerns remain, such as how a diagnosis of chronic depression, cancer or diabetes, affects health and life insurance premiums.
The Affordable Care Act diminishes some concerns about insurance coverage for chronic health issues; health care insurance is more affordable than in the past for most chronic conditions. Life insurance differs, however, because life insurers pay attention to diagnoses of chronic vulnerable conditions; they use the information to set rates for premiums.
Remember, somebody else has it worse, and better times are ahead.