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For Colorado farmers in crisis, a new hotline offers hope

DENVER — “The agricultural economic crisis is real. The resulting stress is real. Let’s TALK about it.”

That’s the pitch on the Colorado Department of Agriculture website for a new program aimed at helping farmers facing emotional crisis because of financial strains in their industry.

Agriculture Commissioner Don Brown says the program, just now rolling out, will train staffers at the Colorado Crisis Center hotline specifically about farming and ranching, so they can better counsel those who call. His department will also promote the hotline to farmers and ranchers statewide.

Colorado’s wheat and corn farmers, in particular, are struggling as global competition forces prices down below their production costs. Brown says he got the idea for the special hotline service after talking with troubled friends in Yuma, where his family has a farm. He spoke about it with Colorado Matters.

Why it became clear this program was needed

“Well I think there is two or three things I’d like to talk about and one of them is the fact that I started farming in the late 1970s, my wife and I, right before the ag crisis hit. So I’ve gone through this once personally as a young person and I guess I recognized, maybe what I saw the signs of, we’re headed maybe that direction again. And particularly this winter, we had several neighbors or acquaintances call us and simply wanting to maybe sell us their land because they were under a lot of pressure from the banks and that told me that we’re headed down a road that we don’t like and then consequently emotionally and mentally that’s very, very struggling and difficult for a farmer and a rancher. Very difficult.”

On an example of how to speak a common language

“Let’s talk about Pioneer 1157 corn, of the GDUs, of so and so and so. Did you know what I’m talking about? Probably not. We talk about the weather. We talk about livestock. We talk about genetics. We have all sorts of terms and relationships and particularly the bond to the land, which I think is difficult to understand unless one has truly experienced it. And the fact that many of these operations are many, several generations old and that, that’s something that you have to know, I guess, in essence, to speak the language.”

On why farmers find it so hard to ask for help

“Well, there’s a great deal of independence and resilience. I mean, you have to be that way to stand there and watch a hailstorm wipe out a year’s worth of work in 10 or 15 minutes and we’ve observed that. We experienced that on our farm this summer early.”

On whether there’s hope on the horizon for farmers’ finances

“Well, I always, you know, I’m an eternal optimist. I’m a lemonade guy. When I get lemons, then all you do it put sugar in it and you’ve got something to consume. This, too, shall change and turn. We’re seeing a growing population and consequently everybody needs to be fed. So there will continue to be demand. There’s always cycles in the weather worldwide. And so we’ll see a rebound. It’ll be slow, or it might quick; you never know. But it’s difficult to realize, too, on occasion that if you’re under financial pressure, it may not be your fault. It probably isn’t your fault. Actually I’d say it’s not your fault because you’re, there’s weather; there’s financial pressures across the world; there’s interest rate, things that are beyond the farmer’s control.”

Sep 5, 2017
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