Credit counseling services help farmers solve major issues

Farm Forum

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — A long-standing strategy in the region has been to pair wheat and cattle operations, since historically when one is up the other is down.

This year, with both these commodities trending at historic lows, that strategy is deepening the economic pain, which is spreading, with things like vomitoxin coming into play. The situation has prompted North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring to partner his North Dakota Agricultural Mediation Service up with the North Dakota Farm Management Education, to broaden the reach of credit counseling services in the state, the Williston Herald reported.

Goehring said there has been a 200 percent increase recently for requests to use Department of Agriculture services.

“This gives us 13 more counselors out there in the state to work with agriculture producers,” Goehring said. “This is first of all voluntary and, secondly, most importantly, it’s confidential. They will have the ability to work with them quietly to assess their situation.”

Farmers have had a number of strikes against them this year in addition to low wheat and cattle prices. Rental rates have reached new highs, while fertilizer and seed are more expensive.

“None of those things have aligned with markets,” Goehring pointed out. “We are still dealing with realities of this year, and it’s going to take some time to work through this.”

Goehring believes payments from the Agriculture Risk Coverage and the Price Loss Coverage programs in the Farm Bill have probably helped stave off some major issues for producers across the state.

“Those came in this fall,” he said. “Some people were pleasantly surprised and happy, some felt it should have been a little more, and some had forgotten it was coming or didn’t budget for it. It has helped heal some balance sheets and given them a chance.”

However, those payments notwithstanding, it is important to consider all strategies and options earlier, rather than later, Goehring added. Viable options for saving a family farm can decrease as time goes by and the situation worsens.

“When things are falling apart on the farm, there’s not a whole lot of communication,” Goehring said. “There’s this thought, this feeling, the weather, the market – you control no aspect of that. They tend to wait to the last moment, waiting for that glimmer of hope, that one thing that will turn things around so they have a better story to tell. They feel ashamed, bad, like they failed.”

Getting another set of eyes and a different perspective can help point out options that are being missed due to all the stress, and even if there is not a very good outcome, the service can help producers be better prepared for mediation, so that other options with financial institutions can be considered.

Services are also available to help with stress during this time, Goehring added. The state’s 24-hour helpline 211 is available to help people when they are dealing with any type of crisis.

North Dakota Farm Management Education provides business management education programs to farm owners and operators or persons interested in farming. North Dakota Mediation Service was created in 1984 to help financially distressed farmers and ranchers by providing assistance in credit and financial matters and resolving disputes.