For the past 60 years, my work in agri-business has allowed me the privilege to be a part of production agriculture in this region, including both the very good and the extremely trying times for farm and ranch families. Sadly, the past few years have tilted heavily towards the latter. In 2019 we saw the culmination of the trials associated with below the cost of production returns, a continued increase in the cost of inputs and a historic year-long battle with Mother Nature.
I have never known a grittier, more optimistic and more persistent group of people than those who live on the land.
There are few locations in our tri-state region that have not been battered with excessive rains, strong and untimely blizzards or a combination of both. Most everyone in our city is aware of and somewhat understands the difficulties associated with planting or harvesting a crop when the ground is heavily saturated with water. This entire year has presented a weather battle, the likes of which very few folks who produce our food can remember.
Those heavy rains and snows also damaged many, if not most, of our township roads, abnormally reducing travel by trucks or grain carts – to say nothing of the vitally important school buses. I have no idea where the money will come from to even begin replacing or repairing our roads, culverts and bridges.
All of this has occurred at the same time that net farm income has dropped by some 40 percent. To put that into a personal perspective, let us assume that in 2016, your family had net cash in the pocket income of $60,000. Let us further assume that in 2019 that same net income will be $40,000. For both the farm family and your Sioux Falls family, the cost of living each day has risen just a bit. The folks who raise the livestock and grain face the same family living expenses as the rest of us, plus the added burden of the daily cost of operations.
Is it any wonder that farm bankruptcy filings will increase by about 25 percent during 2019? Is it any wonder that the incidence of depression and suicide are also on the rise? I applaud those professionals who deal with the disease of depression and suicide for their increased efforts of offering assistance to those who are hurting.
Thankfully, we are entering a new year and in the world of farm and ranch families, a new year seems to offer a new opportunity for better times. I have never known a grittier, more optimistic and more persistent group of people than those who live on the land. They produce the safest, most abundant and economical food supply found any place in the world.
Farm and ranch families, almost to a person, also believe that there is a higher power who has promised that if they ask, help will be there. 2019 has certainly challenged that premise, but when you are in a battle for your very survival, sometimes turning to that power is all that is left.
This column is not intended make you "feel sorry for farmers" but rather is a simple statement of fact. Every family, regardless of their profession or occupation has problems. However, the problems found on a farm are exacerbated by the loneliness associated with rural living, the stress associated with possibly losing a farm that has been in the family for 100 years and everything else that goes along with an extended period of hard times.
Throughout my 57 years of living in this great city, I have always marveled at the support given to our farm and ranch families by the people and businesses of Sioux Falls, led by the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. Those folks need our support now more than ever. Let's remember, when given the opportunity, to extend a sincere thank you to a food producer and occasionally say a prayer or offer a good thought on their behalf. The folks who live on the land are special. It's the least we can do.