Home Foreclosure GABELL | Tying our calloused farm hands like it’s 1984 | Opinion

GABELL | Tying our calloused farm hands like it’s 1984 | Opinion

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Rachel Gabel


The sonic crack startled the banker and interrupted his gaze 1,000 yards in the general direction of the paneled walls of his office. It was 1984 and the pile of files in front of him mirrored the courthouse lawn where – crack, crack, crack – a man was hammering another white cross on the lawn. There were more than 70 crosses, each representing a county farm that had been seized. Many families represented by these crosses had sat opposite the banker because he had told them that they had 30 days to refund their note.

The banging of the gavel surprised the banker for other reasons as well. He had heard of a man who had called a bank, asking to see a farm they had seized in hopes of buying it. The banker met the man there and it is unknown whether the banker realized that the man was actually the farmer he had grabbed or not before falling, dead, on the dry ground. The farmer’s body was found hours later.

Farmers had been found by their wives, hanging from the rafters of the barn. Their wives left to move their children out of their homes while making lists of equipment, tractors, livestock and crops that were hauled off the farm by the tractor-trailer. Bankers were gunned down in their offices by desperate men, many of whom had known most of their lives.

It was a perfect storm, really. The 1970s had been good. Prices were solid, entrees were reasonable and it was raining. Farmers had a little jingle in the bank and opted to upgrade their equipment, buy land, and even buy the new Harvestore silo to store that precious grain on the farm. The high valuation of the land translated into borrowing power and lenders were knocking on farms’ doors, telling them they could borrow money to make the operation truly substantial. Strike while the iron is hot, they said. The increased demand for trade added to the optimism in agricultural countries.

The 1980s began with a dry year but, following the previous year, farmers were ready to pull through. The dry year was followed by a year so wet that there was little or no harvest in most of the states flown over. A year of drought followed, no harvest again. In order to stifle inflation, interest rates were raised from 6% to 12% and then again to 18%. Land values ​​dropped by 60% and the equity was dissolved. Lenders who had once knocked on the doors of farms to lend money, were now knocking on the same doors, calling notes due and posting eviction notices. Huge Harvestore bins, once symbols of prosperity, were called headstones, marking the corpses of family farms.

The children who watched from the stairwell as their parents calculate and recalculate income and expenses are now in their 40s and 50s. They are the ones, now, who calculate and recalculate how to do the operation pencil when pairs of cow calves are worth $1,000 and a tank of diesel in a pickup truck is worth nearly $6 a gallon, or better. They listen to the Farm Broadcaster’s report on the Fed raising interest rates. They hear of a wheat crop in the high plains that is dominated by poor harvesting conditions. They drive and check expensive sprinklers on cornfields that will be harvested by million dollar combines.

Of course, after a year of $8 corn and $16 beans, they might be ready to upgrade their equipment or buy land. You know, strike while the iron is hot. The lot at the local John Deere dealership is nearly empty except for some used equipment. There is a waiting list for new combines, tractors and seed drills. Of course, there is a wait – sometimes indefinite – for parts that are stuck in “supply chain disruptions” somewhere.

These farmers and ranchers — the ones who counted the white crosses on the courthouse lawn and watched their dads grow old while their mothers scraped every morsel of cornbread mix into the cast-iron skillet to go with the beans — have already heard these reports. They’ve seen those headlines before. President Ronald Reagan walked into their living room to tell them, “I want with all my heart to see your burdens lightened, to see the farmers who have given so much to America get the rewards they deserve. As Dwight Eisenhower once said, “Without prosperous agriculture, there is no prosperity in America.”

Today, President Joe Biden is taking farmland under the guise of conservation, his climate policy is costing the red diesel pump millions, and farm labor has become a divisive issue that has trivialized “now hiring/ estamos contratando”. Tying the calloused hands of agricultural producers at this stage of the game will be disastrous for consumers and producers. Benevolent, activist-focused legislation and regulations, drafted with minimal understanding of the real business of agricultural production, must go the way of the dodo. As lawmakers gear up for another Farm Bill discussion, now is the perfect time to leverage rural prosperity driven by dirty hands and clean money.

Rachel Gabel writing on agriculture and rural issues. She is the associate editor of The Fence Post Magazine, the region’s leading agricultural publication. Gabel is a daughter of the state’s oil and gas industry and a member of one of 12,000 cattle ranching families in the state, and is the author of children’s books used in hundreds of rooms classroom to teach students about agriculture.