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Farm Aid News & Views April 1997

April 1997
Volume 5, No. 4



Family farmers, in addition to battling unstable markets and 
unfair farm policies, are faced with managing the whims of 
Mother Nature.  As a result of government policies that favor 
large-scale corporate farming over family farms, many farmers 
and ranchers are just barely able to make ends meet, leaving 
them just one natural disaster away from losing their farms.

In the Midwest, the winter of 1996-97 will go down as one of the 
most brutal and severe on record.  Record high snow 
accumulation and freezing temperatures left thousands of cattle 
dead.  This spring's snowmelt in Minnesota and the Dakotas has 
increased the volume of spring flooding, turning fields into 
lakes and roads into rivers.  It is estimated that up to 100,000 
cattle have been lost in the region due to floods and freezing 
temperatures.  Cattle losses along with planting delays caused by 
spring flooding will affect crop yields and could add up to 
hundreds of millions of dollars in losses for family farmers.

This issue of Farm Aid News & Views will examine the effects 
of recent natural disasters on family farmers and rural 


Last winter left in its wake record snow accumulation and record 
low temperatures.  Thousands of cattle died in Minnesota and 
the Dakotas over the winter due to the extreme cold, and nearly 
200,000 turkeys and chickens died when the weight of the snow 
on their barns caused roofs to collapse.

Farmers in some areas were unable to get hay and feed to their 
livestock due to snow drifts up to 20 feet high.  Farmers needing 
to purchase hay found prices doubled.  Impassable roads 
prevented milk trucks from getting to farms, causing farmers to 
dump their milk.  During severe blizzards, electrical power was 
lost to many areas, preventing the use of electric milking 
machines and causing pipes to freeze.

Some Midwest farmers used as much fuel for running 
generators and snowplows as they would normally use to 
prepare the crop fields in the spring.  Farmers whose livestock 
survived the winter are experiencing increased costs to treat 
weather-related health problems such as frozen udders.  These 
weather related problems went from bad to worse recently as 
blizzards were replaced by floods.


Extreme flooding throughout the Midwest is adding insult to 
injury after a historically severe winter.  In Minnesota alone, 
winter blizzard farm damage cost over $100 million, and 
flooding farms are expected to push the damages to over $1 
billion.  More than two million acres of Minnesota cropland and 
1.7 million acres of North Dakota cropland are under water.  
North Dakota has lost an estimated two-thirds of its spring calf 
crop, and dairy farmers throughout the region are now finding 
that impassable lakes have replaced mountains of snow in 
denying milk truck access to their farms. Flooded grain bins 
have destroyed feed reserves and income for farmers who were 
planning to market their grain in the spring.

In 1993, Midwestern farmers suffered great losses due to summer 
floods; crops had been planted and were washed away.  This year, 
water is preventing anyone from working in the fields.  Some 
farmers can't get to their farm equipment, and the saturated soil 
will delay planting, resulting in a shorter growing period and 
likely affecting crop yields.


A downturn in the economic fortunes of farming communities 
inevitably brings about increased stress levels and this year's 
severe weather has been no different.  
Calls to farmer hotlines are already up throughout the region 
and are expected to rise even higher later this year.  The North 
Dakota Mental Health Association reports an increase in calls 
from farmers and hotline workers suffering from anxiety, 
frustration and depression.  In South Dakota, there have been 
several reported farmer suicides attributed to the disaster.

Right now most farmers and ranchers are preoccupied with 
digging out from the disasters and trying to keep their farms 
going.  Mental health experts in the region say that farmers will 
have to deal with increased levels of stress and frustration later 
in the year after the full extent of the weather damage is known.  

President Clinton has declared the areas hit by floods federal 
disaster areas.  The Clinton administration is seeking nearly $500 
million in flood assistance for rural and urban damage to the 
Dakotas and Minnesota.

Also under the disaster declaration, a variety of low-interest 
loans are available for qualifying farmers and ranchers.  Farm 
Service Agency (FSA) emergency loans of up to $500,000 cover 
production and property losses.  However, only farmers who 
qualify for commercial credit are eligible for these emergency 

State agencies are also providing help.  The University of 
Minnesota's Extension Service, for instance, has set up an 
emergency livestock housing program that links farmers who 
need to move livestock from flooded areas with farmers who 
aren't flooded.  Contact your local extension office for more 
information about local assistance programs.

Farm assistance groups around the country have mobilized to 
assist family farmers recovering from disastrous weather 
conditions.  The North Dakota Conference of Churches, based in 
Bismarck, has been working with the Federal Emergency 
Management Agency (FEMA) and the Red Cross to generate 
support for farmers.  "We've been contacting churches to get 
volunteers to help with sandbagging," says Eunice Brinckerhoff.  
"Family farmers are in terrible trouble.  The loss of cattle is just 
horrendous.  There are thousands of corpses that need to be 
removed, and the ground is too saturated to bury dead cattle."

North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture Roger Johnson has 
been coordinating agriculture disaster relief in North Dakota.  
The North Dakota Department of Agriculture has set up an 
Agriculture Disaster Response Center, which provides 
information and referrals to farmers needing help and 
coordinates removal and disposal of animal carcasses.  The 
department is working with other organizations to remove dead 
animals from waterways.  Johnson says that six to seven 
hundred carcasses have been removed from rivers, streams and 
creeks, but several hundred remain.  The next challenge will be 
the removal of dead animals that aren't in waterways.

Farm advocate groups have long worked for fair treatment of 
family farmers stricken by natural disasters.  In 1994, after 
extensive flooding in the Midwest, South Dakota-based Dakota 
Rural Action, along with the National Family Farm Coalition 
and Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG) won a temporary 
disaster set-aside provision where FSA (then FmHA) would set 
aside one year's payment and put it on the end of the loan, 
waiving principle and interest.  This temporary policy was made 
permanent in 1995, and remains an option for farmers facing 
hardship.  According to Theresa Keaveny of Dakota Rural 
Action, "This provision helps thousands of family farmers stay 
on the land, and it keeps more money on Main Street."  

Changes in the 1996 Farm Bill placed new eligibility 
requirements on farmers needing loans.  Many farmers have 
been put into high-risk categories due to factors beyond their 
control - such as the weather.  "We don't think losses from this 
winter are reason to prevent people from getting loans," says 
Keaveny.  Farmers don't have the cash resources to weather the 
weather loss due to low cattle prices driven down by 
concentration and major meatpacker market control.  Dairy 
farmers are also dealing with low farmgate prices while their 
input costs - heat, electricity, fuel, feed - are up.

In addition to highlighting weaknesses in federal farm policy, 
this winter also illustrated how large-scale hog and dairy 
operations are harmful to the environment.  Keaveny reports 
that there have been numerous industrial dairy and hog lagoon 
spills in violation of state and local permits, proving that large-
scale livestock lagoons are not designed to withstand major 
disasters such as flooding. "Lagoons are not equipped to handle 
these winters," Keaveny says. 


Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG), a nonprofit law firm based 
in Minnesota, has a publication available to help farmers and 
ranchers find disaster relief.  The publication, Farmers' Guide to 
Disaster Assistance (Second Edition), guides farmers and farm 
advocates through government assistance programs.  First 
published in 1993, this book provided invaluable assistance to 
farmers trying to recover from Midwest flooding.  The 1997 
edition is revised because of changes that Congress passed in 
1994 that eliminated traditional disaster programs and altered 
crop insurance provisions, according to Stephen Carpenter of 
FLAG.  "Every year, somewhere there's a disaster," says 
Carpenter.  "There is an ongoing need for the book."  The new 
edition significantly expands crop insurance information and 
discusses USDA disaster insurance, emergency loans, Federal 
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance and small 
business loans.  See Resources for ordering information.


The Midwest and Great Plains regions are not the only areas 
taking a hit this year.  Tornadoes and floods have ravaged the 
whole country from California to Florida, destroying winter 
crops and soaking spring plantings.  California reports an 
estimated $245 million in agriculture damage, and Florida lost 
$250 million worth of winter crops due to a sudden freeze.  In 
Ohio, recent flooding has caused severe damage to many rural 


Last summer, Texas farmers suffered through the worst drought 
since the Dust Bowl.  Many farmers and ranchers lost their hay 
crops and were unable to feed their cattle, forcing many to sell 
their herds and leave the business.  After Willie Nelson donated 
the proceeds of his 4th of July Picnic concert to help drought-
stricken farmers, Farm Aid worked with Lutheran Social 
Services of the South and Texas Farmers Union to establish a 
Farmer to Farmer Haylift to help Texas farmers feed their 
livestock through the winter.

The haylift effort, which wrapped up in February, provided hay 
and emergency assistance to 125 farmers and ranchers.  In all, 
more than 200 tons of hay were donated by farmers in South 
Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Wisconsin and 

Other organizations that made the haylift a success include the 
Texas Corn Growers, National Family Farm Coalition, 
Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Community Farm 
Alliance, American Corn Growers Association, Rural 
Advancement Foundation International - USA, The 
International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Roadway Express.


Family farmers scored a significant victory earlier this month 
when the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) returned 
more than $50,000 in checkoff funds to the National Pork Board 
following a USDA audit that found that NPPC had improperly 
used the funds to conduct surveillance of family farm 
organizations opposed to factory hog operations (see the March 
1997 issue of Farm Aid News & Views).  The groups under 
surveillance included Iowa Citizens for Community 
Improvement, Land Stewardship Project, Missouri Rural Crisis 
Center, National Farmers Union, Center for Rural Affairs, and 
Corporate Agribusiness Research Project.

In addition to repaying the funds, NPPC fired Mongoven, Biscoe 
and Duchin, the consulting firm hired to monitor family farm 
organizations.  Family farm groups are calling for a full 
investigation of NPPC's spending activities by USDA's Office of 
Inspector General.  NPPC officials had previously denied using 
farmer checkoff funds to monitor family farm organizations. 

The announcement came after weeks of protest by family farm 
groups, capped off by a National Agriculture Day demonstration 
at NPPC headquarters in Des Moines, organized by the 
Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment.  Over 300 
farmers and rural residents from seven states participated in the 
demonstration, along with Farm Aid President Willie Nelson.

Farm Aid executive director Carolyn Mugar said NPPC's actions 
demonstrate the power of grassroots family farm organizations.  
"This battle was David versus Goliath, and David won," says 
Mugar.  "NPPC should make note of this victory, because family 
farm groups will not stand by while factory farm interests are 
promoted above family farms."

Rodney Skalbeck, a Minnesota farmer and member of the Land 
Stewardship Project, states, "NPPC is on notice - family farmers 
will not go away.  We intend to monitor NPPC closely and take 
action whenever we see them acting against the interests of the 
American family farmer."


For more information on disaster relief or how you can help:

Farm Aid's Family Farm Disaster Fund 
1-800-FARMAID  (327-6243)

Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG) Farmers' Guide to Disaster 
Assistance (Second Edition, 1997), $18 for farmers, ranchers and 
nonprofits, 46 East 4th Street, Suite 1301, St. Paul, MN  55101, 
612- 223-5400, fax 612-223-5335.

North Dakota
North Dakota Department of Agriculture 
Disaster Hotline 888-337-8632

Mental Health Association of North Dakota 

North Dakota Conference of Churches 701-255-0604

South Dakota
Dakota Rural Action 605-697-5204

South Dakota Farm Crisis Hotline 800-691-4336

South Dakota Department of Agriculture Hotline 800-228-5254

Minnesota Department of Agriculture 
Farm Advocates 800-652-9747

"Minnesota Meltdown, Spring '97" is an Internet home page 
designed by the University of Minnesota's Extension Service 
that gives information on the Midwestern flood and provides 
links to other resources, including the Federal Emergency 
Management Agency (FEMA), IRS Disaster Relief Information, 
the National Weather Service, the Minnesota Department of 
Agriculture and other universities. 


1997 Cooperative Development Forum, "Cooperatives:  
Partnerships for Economic Development," June 13-15, Radisson 
Hotel, St. Paul, MN.  Contact Mark Jacobson, 202-383-5447.

Farm Aid News is produced by the Institute for 
Agriculture and Trade Policy for Farm Aid.  Editors 
Harry Smith and Kate Hoff.  We encourage the 
reproduction of Farm Aid News & Views.  Comments and 
suggestions welcome. Farm Aid (617) 354-2922.  Fax: 
(617) 354-6992. Email: Farmaid1@aol.com.  For more 
information on agricultural publications contact IATP, 
(612) 870-0453. Fax: (612) 870-4846.