Farm Bureau: Farm debt and bankruptcies up

BISMARCK, N.D. - The year 2019 stands out for farmers for all the wrong reasons. Late planting followed by a wet fall made it difficult to harvest.

Nationally, farm bankruptcies are on the rise, and there's concern that they'll continue this trend following the rough year. But North Dakota could be the anomaly.

North Dakota is one of the lucky ones from 2019, even though many will tell you otherwise. According to the USDA, farm sector debt has been on a steady incline since the mid 1990's. Topping off at more than $400 billion in 2019.

"The things that we have seen that have changed is the fact that the prices that we're receiving now probably replicate or mirror something that we had in the early 90s. But when you look at the debt that's associated, and the expenses, it's more like something from 2012 - 2013, and that's a problem,” said Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.

In the Midwest alone, more than 250 farms filed for bankruptcy, according to the Farm Bureau. But North Dakota survived 2019 with only 3 bankruptcies; compare that to the 31 in Minnesota and 48 in Wisconsin.

"It's a tough thing. A farmer has all of his life, worked, built these assets, but just because of our economic conditions, not even through any fault of his own he ends up having to lose the farm,” Goehring said

For the past 5 years, delinquencies have fluctuated. Goehring attributes the state's low numbers to active credit consulting programs. But acknowledges the situation isn't perfect.

"But at least we're on the front end; we're not digging a deeper hole. It's not necessarily where people want to go, but we're giving them an option to save a little bit of something out of this. Maybe not get stuck with a huge liability in the end,” said Goehring.

Goehring said he will be visiting USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey in the coming weeks to expand relief options for North Dakota farmers.