Farmers confront planting pressure
Crisis hot line calls increase
DES MOINES -- Weather, payments and prices top the list of concerns for Iowa farmers as the spring planting season gets under way.
Farmers hope the weather will cooperate. Soil moisture is a concern, as it is every year. Add to it the mild winter, which adds the possibility of more pests than normal.
Farmers also hope for help from Congress, which has been debating a new federal farm bill since the harvest.
Once again, farm families are being squeezed financially. For some, the pressures are overwhelming.
There's excessive credit card debts, restructured farm real-estate loans that lengthen repayment, cash-flow shortages and increased marital and mental health problems.
In the past two weeks, Iowa Concern, a crisis hot line sponsored by Iowa State University Extension, has intervened to help two farmers who had attempted suicide.
At least 16 percent of callers last month were farmers, up from 12 percent a year ago, hot line coordinator Margaret VanGinkel said.
Distressed farmer calls are not concentrated anywhere, she said.
"They're all over," she said.
Leslie Miller, a loan officer at Iowa State Savings Bank in Knoxville, also sees trouble in clients' inquiries. A year ago, her bank loaned money to farmers so they could pay their income taxes. This year, only one such loan has been made.
"That tells me people didn't make any money last year," she said.
Concern about farm finances is widespread. The biggest reason is persistently low commodity prices. High land prices and rental rates are not supported by low market prices, expert say.
"It is not a disaster, but there is pressure, clearly, and more apprehension than I have seen in some years," said Neil Harl, a farm economist and legal expert at Iowa State University in Ames.
Most distressing, Harl and others said, is to see farmers who don't have to quit the business that quit anyway because they are tired of fighting low market prices and a cut-throat environment in agriculture today.
Harl calls in "finance fatigue."