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Trouble on the Farm

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Combine image MANY FARMERS IN MINNESOTA didn't approach spring with their usual enthusiasm. When the seeds were sewn this year, they were planting a crop sure to lose money.

Agriculture commodity prices are at some of the lowest levels in the past 50 years. According to the Minnesota Extension Service, independent hog farmers that are not selling hogs under contract have been losing $30 to $60 per hog.

Many grain farmers are using commodity prices that are lower than their cost of production for 1999 cash flow projections.

Downturns in agriculture commodity prices are relatively short term. But, the extension service says, there are no indicators in the current grain and livestock market situations that suggest the current low commodity prices are short-term.

The Minnesota Citizens' Forums looked at the situation. The Minnesota Citizens' Forum is an ongoing citizen-involvement initiative of Minnesota Public Radio, KTCA-TV and the Star-Tribune, and is partnered with the University of Minnesota Journalism Center.


A Year of Woe
There are signs that the crisis in agriculture eased a bit the past year but farmers anticipate more tough times in the year 2000. Despite a pledge to end farm subsidies, federal government props in the form of emergency aid appear to be the only thing keeping many Minnesota farmers in business. The political arena will be a major focus for farmers, but they'll also be keeping an eye on the weather. December 27, 1999
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Never the Same
When prices collapsed a year ago some farmers began selling hogs and processed meat directly to consumers in hopes of getting a better price. The market has recovered a little this year but prices are still below the break even point. Some farmers wonder if hogs will ever again be the profit center they were a few years ago. November 5, 1999
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Bankers Onboard
Members of Congress are starting to hear from a sector in the agriculture business they haven't heard much from before -- bankers. For the first time a task force of the American Bankers Association is taking a position on ag policy and recommending solutions to permanently lift farmers out of financial crisis mode. November 4, 1999
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The Farmer as Tenant
A survey of farmers in Swift County in west-central Minnesota shows that agriculture is rapidly becoming a landlord-tenant system rather than the familiar independent family farm. That trend has accelerated as farmers' economic problems intensify. September 22, 1999
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Farm Aid Kicks Off Week of Lobbying
In Washington, farmers from around the United States will push Congress for emergency assistance and other legislative solutions to agriculture problems. The annual Farm Aid concert yesterday in Bristow, Virginia - near Washington - kicked off several days of lobbying by farmers who say basic changes must be made in government farm programs. Among those in Washington are some 30 Minnesota farmers. September 13, 1999
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Is It Really A Crisis?
In what could be a first-in-the-nation attempt, federal officials may ask that Minnesota be declared a farm economic-disaster area. September 2, 1999
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How to Keep 'em on the Farm
Minnesota Senators Paul Wellstone and Rod Grams appeared together to discuss the state's farm crisis. The two participated in the final Minnesota Citizens' Forum where they were joined by representatives of the Ventura administration. August 31, 1999
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Rally for the Farm
About 700 farmers gathered in Waconia this weekend for "Rural Crisis Accountability Day." The rally gave agriculture and labor officials - along with politicians and clergy - a chance to air potential solutions for the current crisis in agriculture. August 23, 1999
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The Unseen Farm Crisis
Politicians have been popping up in rural Minnesota like weeds, looking for ideas and backing for their farm proposals, but Congress is unlikely to make significant changes without support from folks in town - and this farm crisis isn't translating well in the city. August 19, 1999
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Not Buying It
Farmers have finally received some good news as the U.S. Senate agreed on a $7 billion farm-relief package. As this year's Farmfest wraps up near Redwood Falls, many of those walking the long rows of machinery doubted the federal aid will be of much help. August 5, 1999
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No Agreement
The heads of competing farm organizations can't agree on how to solve the farm crisis. And farmers at Farmfest say they're not hearing anything they didn't already know. August 4, 1999
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The Wasted Spring
Thief River Falls farmers talk about the disasterous planting season. July 1, 1999
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The Forums June - September 1999

A group of citizens around the state, such as this one in Crookston, have been participating in the forums discussing solutions to the farm crisis.

Take Action

Register your opinions in the MPR Forum.
Participate at a forum site.
Visit our Citizens' Forum partners:
Star Tribune
MN. Extension Service
Minnesota Rural Partners

Forum I - June 14, 1999
Kick-Off, Citizen's Forum on the Social and Economic Crisis in Rural Minnesota
This forum featured Governor Jesse Ventura and Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson.
Listen | Read story


Forum II - July 9,1999
"We're Not to Blame"
In the second of four specials this summer on the Minnesota farm crisis, Minnesota Public Radio's Mainstreet unit looked at the personal toll the crisis has exacted. In a broadcast from the Clay County Fair in Barnesville, we learn that farmers are struggling with their own guilt over failed farms. "It's not our fault," one farmer tells us, "the government is taking us out of our livelihood."

Listen to Hour One | Listen to Hour Two


Forum III - August 5, 1999
What value do we place on the rural economy?
Hour One: The Greater Minnesota View.
Listen to Hour One

  • Willis Anthony, Nicollet County farm operator.
  • Marci McLaughlin, Executive Director, Minnesota Rural Partners.
  • Erlin Weness, farm management specialist, U of M Extension Service

Hour Two: The Urban Perspective.
Listen to Hour Two
  • Dean Barkley, Coordinator, Minnesota Planning
  • Senator Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis
  • Steve Taff, Applied economics specialist, U of M.
Forum IV - August 30, 1999
Creating a vision for the future of Minnesota Agriculture
Read story | Listen to 7 pm - 8 pm segment | Listen to 8 pm - 8:30 pm
  • A wrap-up of the forum process. This forum will show the impact of the process by answering the questions:
    • What difference has this process made?
    • What have you learned as an individual? A community? Do you have a vision for your future?
    • Is there a vision for the future of rural Minnesota? The agricultural industry?


The Minnesota Citizens' Forum, sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio, the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis and KTCA-TV, provides a vehicle for people to engage in a discussion of public issues. Through these forums, reporters and editors were able to focus candidates during 1998 on issues that are most important to our listeners, viewers, and readers. With the Ventura administration underway, the Minnesota Citizens Forum will allow elected officials to stay in touch with the opinions of the voters.

See information about MPR's Civic Journalism Initiative.