County farmers receive record assistance

Farmers and ranchers in Marion County received some relief from the problems they faced with weather, crops and commodity prices in 1999.

The 1999 Farm Service Agency set record payments through a variety of assistance programs in the county.

The money was made available through the United States Department of Agriculture in attempts to offset some of the financial hardships producers faces.

The money is distributed to producers through the FSA.

?Our role was pretty much to weather out low-price grain,? said William Harmon, FSA county executive director.

Payments increased 50 percent from the 1998-99 year, totaling $14,257,673 in the fifth year of the seven-year federal farm program. In addition to the regular payments, producers also received extra loss-assistance payments for market loss.

?That set a record for us,? Harmon said. ?A record for us means record low prices to make up the difference.?

Harmon said the money they dispensed was greatly needed by a lot of people.

?It was another year definitely lower in gross revenue and profit for (farmers) in 1999 in Marion County,? said Steve Tonn, Marion County extension agent. ?Production-wise, we had an average year.?

He said although yields were good, prices weren?t.

According to Harmon, producers usually watch the market closely to get the highest prices for their grain, although he has not been seeing that a lot lately.

Another way farmers are increasing their income is through off-farm work and spouses working.

Marion County is not alone. Similar conditions are evident across the United States.

Government infusions reached a record high at $22.7 billion in 1999 and loan deficiency payments saw a substantial increase. Average farm household income for 1999 was $61,363.

Conditions are not expected to improve in the foreseeable future.

?It appears we will see the same level of assistance in 2000,? Harmon said.

He said many producers have requested their January payments to start off the year.

Tonn says it looks like producers will see similar situations next year unless weather problems over a large area affect prices.

U.S. farm income is forecast at $40.4 billion for the coming year. This is down $7.6 billion from last year.

Total crop receipts also are expected to decrease $1.7 billion from 1999 to $93.3 billion. This is the lowest since 1994.

In addition to crops, dairy receipts also are expected to fall almost $2 billion, reaching the lowest point since 1997.

In contrast to crop and dairy prices, livestock receipts are expected to increase for the second year because of continued growth in poultry and an improvement in cattle and hogs.

A benefit to farmers is the low increase in production costs. Expenses are projected to increase only 1 percent in 2000.

To help offset low farm income, government payments in 2000 will include $2.8 billion in emergency assistance compensation.

LDP payments are expected to rise to $7.9 billion in 2000.

Even with the increase in debt, balance sheets have improved and debt-to-asset ratios declined.

Harmon said the payments will help farmers make it through until prices go back up.

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