Low commodity crop prices the past six years, as well as other factors, have increased financial stress on family farms in Minnesota. The University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture offer services to address financial stress.

University of Minnesota Extension offers free, one-on-one financial counseling to farmers experiencing financial stress. A team of retired experts from areas like banking and farm business management education has been assembled to provide this free service. This team of Extension farm financial analysts help participating farmers understand their financial situation, explore options, and seek to identify alternatives to help alleviate the financial stress caused by the current agricultural climate. Any farmer experiencing concern about their finances can use this service to get sound financial advice.

Here’s what a recent program participant said: “We called the U of M Extension Farm Financial Counseling program and are so glad that we did. We were assigned an analyst. His knowledge and compassion for our situation helped us understand the options available and allowed us to see a clear direction for our farm. We are grateful for this free, confidential service, and we encourage others to make the call.”

In addition to this University program, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture offers a service called Farm Advocates, which provides one-on-one assistance for Minnesota farmers who face crisis caused by either a natural disaster or financial problems.

Individuals who serve as Farm Advocates understand the needs of agricultural families and communities. They are trained and experienced in agricultural lending practices, mediation, lender negotiation, farm programs, crisis counseling, disaster programs and to recognize the need for legal and/or social services. There is no charge or fee for Farm Advocate assistance.

Farm Advocates receive continuing education in the changing and complex issues of lender policies, bankruptcy laws, mediation, tax laws, USDA’s Farm Service Agency’s loan programs, Farm Credit Services, and all other government programs affecting agriculture. Their purpose is to help farmers navigate these complicated topics. As a result of years of experience, Farm Advocates have also developed a network of attorneys, accountants, human service professionals, and educators. Farm Advocates are able to share their expertise with others to help them make informed decisions, equipped with plenty of experience and resources.

You should consider seeing a farm advocate if you are: going into farmer-lender mediation, negotiating with lenders, liquidating assets of the farm operation, in need financial information, suffering a loss due to natural disaster, seeing a major drop in your equity over a period of 12 months, entering into or dissolving a partnership, or want to begin farming.

Please know there are resources available to help. If you or a farmer you know is experiencing financial stress, contact the Farm Information Line at 1-800-232-9077 to set up a financial counseling session. To learn more about the Farm Advocates visit: www.mda.state.mn.us or contact nearest Farm Advocate, Wayne Pike, at 507-251-1937.

Claire LaCanne is the agricultural extension educator for Rice and Steele counties. Reach her at lacanne@umn.edu, or at 507-332-6165 (Rice County) or 507-444-7691 (Steele County).

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