Stagnant crop prices, trade disputes and a lukewarm economic forecast for the next several years have left many farmers worried about what the future will bring. This has been a stressful year. “Farmers are concerned with how long these low prices will last,” says Alejandro Plastina, Iowa State University Extension economist. “Is there something on the horizon with upward potential for farm income? Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
Net farm income for medium-size farms increased in 2017 compared to the last two years, and cash income has increased back to 2013 levels. However, profitability is relatively low, as the average operating profit margin is 4.4%, notes Plastina. Uncertainty regarding trade agreements has also created problems within the farm economy.
“The new government programs available to compensate farmers for losses due to increased tariffs will help, but the bigger problem is uncertainty in the medium term,” he adds. “Is this phase going to last for 10 years, and how will land values react?”
ISU has helpful resources available
As farmers confront these conditions head-on, there are resources available through ISU Extension and Outreach to navigate both questions they have about the profitability of their farming operation and about the well-being of themselves and their families.
The Iowa Concern Hotline (800-447-1985) is a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week free, confidential resource for anyone with concerns or questions about farm finances, crisis and disaster response and personal health issues. Access to an attorney is also available to help provide legal education.
When someone calls the Iowa Concern Hotline’s toll-free number, 800-447-1985, trained specialists provide immediate support to either answer questions directly or get the caller in touch with experts who can provide additional information or support. “If someone calls who is dealing with stress and its effects, the first thing we do is work with the person on that issue and provide immediate stress counseling,” says Tammy Jacobs, Iowa Concern Hotline coordinator. “We try to provide access to the assistance each individual needs.”
Don’t hesitate to call if you need help
Hotline staffers work to provide contact information for ISU Extension specialists, who can help address specific questions or direct callers to other partners near where they live to help navigate through their current situation.
“Whether they need to speak to an ISU Extension farm management specialist, an attorney, someone with Iowa Mediation Service or a mental health specialist, we try to connect callers with the resources that will be most helpful to them,” says Jacobs.
There’s been a slow but steady increase in the number of calls from farmers in recent months, she says. The pressure of harvest can ratchet up nerves — especially a delayed harvest in a wet fall like this year. But Jacobs anticipates that as harvest 2018 gets finished in November, as the financial situation again hits home, “we could see an increase in the number of calls this winter, if commodity prices remain low and financial conditions don’t improve.”
Source: Iowa State University