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Extension offers farmers free financial counseling

WILLMAR -- Calls of concern from lenders and calls for help from farmers has led the University of Minnesota Extension program to offer financial counseling for farmers.

Carolyn Lange / Tribune file photoCrop yields have been good in recent years in Minnesota but crop prices have been low, which has put financial stress on farmers.
Crop yields have been good in recent years in Minnesota but crop prices have been low, which has put financial stress on farmers. (Carolyn Lange / Tribune file photo)

WILLMAR - Calls of concern from lenders and calls for help from farmers has led the University of Minnesota Extension program to offer financial counseling for farmers.

Starting this week, farmers who are teetering on the edge of serious financial troubles will have access to free, one-on-one, confidential financial counseling.

It's hoped the service will head off financial disaster that has already started to claim some farmers.

"There's financial stress across the state and across all sectors of agriculture," said Kevin Klair, who leads Extension's Agricultural Business Management program.

A majority of farmers are currently doing OK, he said, and the current stress on Minnesota farms is not as great as it was in the 1980s.

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But with continued low commodity prices for crops and livestock, Klair said red flags were raised already last summer with "questions from lenders, questions from farmers and questions from farm organizations" in the state.

"We heard that farmers were experiencing financial stress and were asked what Extension was going to do about it," Klair said.

The specially trained financial analysts will include retired lenders and agricultural business professionals from Extension and other organizations, such as the farm business management program offered by the Minnesota State system of colleges and universities.

There will be five counselors available now, with plans to add five or six more this fall, Klair said.

Farmers can make inquiries and set up appointments by calling the toll-free Farm Information Line at 1-800-232-9077. The phone will be manned several hours a day. Klair said farmers can leave messages with contact information on the voice mail.

Located in Thief River Falls, Marshall, Jackson, Waseca and Little Falls, the counselors "will travel anywhere in the state" and will have face-to-face meetings and telephone follow-up sessions with farmers, Klair said.

He said counselors will likely ask farmers to provide balance sheets or tax returns that will be used to analyze their current finances. The counselors will also discuss options to keep farmers in business in the future, which could include refinancing or seeking low-interest loans through different agencies.

Klair said refinancing is already happening and he's heard that some farmers who are in serious financial troubles are selling parcels of land or equipment in order to have working capital.

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The counseling program, which is funded by the University's rapid agricultural response fund, is expected to run for two years and will be modeled after similar services offered in other states including Kansas and Iowa.

It will augment services currently available in Minnesota, including the Farmer-Lender Mediation program, which is overseen by Extension.

Klair said the mediation program is used after a farmer receives a foreclosure notice, whereas the counseling program is designed to prevent farmers from getting to that stage.

Kevin Klair
Kevin Klair

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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