The Federal Reserve says the number of farms filing for bankruptcy in the Upper Midwest is up. It’s common for market prices in the agriculture sector to drop from time to time, but in recent years those prices have continuously dropped, with no sign of letting up.
The Badger Report’s Lilly Price visited a dairy farm in Waunakee, Wisconsin experiencing the financial strain felt by many across the region.
Hoffman Farms has been in the Hoffman family for a hundred years. Family-run with little outside help, the farm is home to over 400 dairy cows.
Due to a combination of recent tariffs, a drop in income, and low market prices, Hoffman is now one of thousands of dairy and grain farmers feeling financially and emotionally stressed.
“The toll it takes is something that you can kind of measure because it used to be a hope and a promise to pass it on to another..,” Mary Hoffman said.
Although a sagging market not uncommon, experts say the depth and severity of the downturn in prices is what experts are saying makes this situation unusual. Market dips that often only last a year are now entering their fourth or fifth year, and both livestock and grain farmers are running out of capital.
“Not all of them are losing money, some are doing okay, but it’s not happy years for everybody,” said UW-Madison Professor of Agriculture and Applied Economics Paul Mitchell. “There’s definitely some that are under a lot of stress. There’s been a lot of farm bankruptcies.”
According to Hoffman, three years ago a farmer could sell a calf for almost four hundred dollars. Now, calves are worth next to nothing.
“It’s gotten so bad that the calves have become worthless. They’re being killed instead of sold at the auction barns because there’s nobody there to buy them.
Mary’s farm is doing okay, largely because her family does most of the hard work and doesn’t hire many outside workers. Her son Jeremy is hopeful for the future.
“I’m an optimist. I think it’s going to come back. I don’t think it’s going to come roaring back. I think the fundamentals of the industry have changed,” said Jeremy Hoffman.
The state’s economy is strong and farmers who declare bankruptcy may be able to find another career, but it might not be in agriculture.
For the Badger Report, I’m Lilly Price.