Nicolet Law Office, S.C.

The economy and weather plague small Wisconsin family farms

Family farms across the country are bracing for a rough year. Between the trade war and low commodity prices, hardworking farmers are facing a bleak outlook. Add in the flooding from the spring and the situation becomes even worse.

For Wisconsin farmers, the early frost is compounding the problem. This shortened the growing season in a year when the soggy spring delayed the planting period, and the cooler summer has slowed the maturation of crops.

Family farms versus industrial farms

All of these issues are harming farms that produce wheat, soybeans and corn. All three crops are well behind the five-year averages. Unfortunately, these challenges are pushing some family farms to the brink of bankruptcy because their finances are already stretched to the limits from previous years' difficulties.

Some individuals don't realize the struggle that these family farms are having because they see the industrial farms thriving. Industrial dairy farms in this state are benefiting from the lower crop prices because they result in less expensive feed for the cattle. The smaller farms that have a shorter growing season are also suffering.

Sad news for Wisconsin

Wisconsin leads the country in the number of bankruptcies for family farms. While the 45 Chapter 12 bankruptcies filed from July 2018 through June 2019 was five fewer than the 12-month period prior, the state still leads the nation. The good news for Wisconsin is that it did see that decline. Other states, including Kansas, South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota all had increases in Chapter 12 filings during the time of the Wisconsin dip.

Smaller farms who are struggling are also dealing with more pressure from bankers. Some are noting that they are receiving calls asking about the status of this year's harvest. While this isn't necessarily unusual, the check-ins are coming earlier in the season.

Assistance and resources

Many family farmers have become accustomed to dealing with the fluctuations in the economy. However, the complex issues are proving distressing to many. While there are assistance programs and resources available for some, they aren't helping them all. Sadly, all these problems may spell the end of the road for some smaller family-run operations.

Some farms are turning to Chapter 12 bankruptcy to address the debt issues plaguing them. While some think of this as a method of last resort, it is a wholly legal way for them to find relief and gain a fresh start at a time when they don't see another option.

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