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By now, it's not news that Minnesota farmers have had a rough year.

But just how rough it has been was made plain in recent meetings Thom Petersen, the state agriculture commissioner, had with farmers at the annual conventions of the Farmers Union and Minnesota Farm Bureau.

The meetings are usually a time for farmers to catch their breath after the busy harvest season. This year, though, with so many farmers still trying to get work done in their fields, attendance was reported to be down at the sessions. There was also a shortage of optimism.

"It's an amazingly challenging year," Petersen said.

Let us count the ways:

* Last winter's record snowfall was blamed for the collapse of at least 300 barns, with additional loss of livestock.

* Wet weather in the spring delayed planting and in some cases, prevented it.

* Persistent and heavy rain in the summer stunted plant growth, or washed away the plants. 

* Fall rains and early snowfall have made the fall harvest difficult.

* Commodity prices have remained low, and demands have been negatively affected by ongoing trade and tariff wars.

* Farm debt is expected to reach a record high, and farm bankruptcy filings have increased.

"I think it's worse than people think and I'm concerned about that," Petersen told Forum News Service.

Based on calls to the Department of Health's Farm and Rural Helpline, he's correct.

Calls to the hotline increased again in October, and online visits more than tripled in the July-October period when compared to last year.

In addition, Petersen's Agriculture Department has received dozens of calls from farmers in need of mental health, financial or food assistance. Stress and anxiety have become all too commonplace among farm families.

Out of all of this, the ag community will need to find a way to move forward. Agriculture is too important to the state's economy and food supply. 

So, what comes next? A year of decent weather would help. Better prices, a reduction in trade wars, more markets -- any or all of these would represent a positive step.

Farmers, despite living under a dark cloud these days, need to stay alert to possibilities. We believe they will do so.

"We're going to have those challenges," Petersen said of 2019, "but we have to find those opportunities."

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