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Farmers Worry About Planting Conditions
By Dan Gunderson
Part of MPR's Trouble on the Farmcoverage.
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Farmers gathered in Thief River Falls today to share their concerns with Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson and other officials. Heavy spring rains continuing into early summer have prevented farmers from planting millions of acres in northwest Minnesota and eastern North Dakota. For many area farmers, it's another in a string of bad years and it may be the last straw for hundreds. Farmers say federal disaster aid is the only thing that will keep them going another year.

ALBIN CHAPLINSKI IS UNCHARACTERISTICALLY IDLE. It's too wet to even mow the lawn. He spends the day puttering about the yard and checking his computer often to see if the radar shows more rain moving in.

Chaplinski: You go to town, you go to the bar, wherever you go the subject is all this rain.
Chaplinski says he sees depression setting in among some neighbors as the rains continue. He shrugs and says he's learned to accept what nature gives
Chaplinski: The only thing I think about when it starts to rain is I don't have to work tomorrow. But I have friends, when the raindrops hit the roof they're up. Then they sit and watch television the rest of the night. It really bothers 'em. I myself can handle that. There's nothing you can do anyway. You don't want to let it drive you to the graveyard.
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Dan Gunderson covers northwest Minnesota and eastern North Dakota for Minnesota Public Radio. To provide feedback on this story, please email
The 60-year-old Chaplinksi puffs a cigar as he sits on the deck of his farmhouse and looks out over fields green and lush with weeds. He seeded some of his 3,200 acres twice this spring, to no avail.
Chaplinski: We got in about 1,600 acres, which is pretty well shot. Would've been better if the rain had come a couple days earlier so we'd never got in and done it.
Chaplinski says he has crop insurance, but it won't quite cover his expenses. He's happy because his income tax refund will help pay property taxes for another year, and his wife makes enough working off the farm to pay most of their living expenses.

But Chaplinski admits he's crazy to stay in farming. Still, like many of his neighbors who are in their 60s, he can't visualize any other way of life.
Chaplinski: I'll quit when they haul me out of here. I'll fight to the end. It's all I know. I've farmed all my life. When I was a teenager, I traded my car for a tractor. I love to farm . I don't need a big profit but I'd like to pay my bills.
A lot of farmers in northwest Minnesota haven't been able to pay their bills lately. That's making life difficult for people like Darrel Jarshaw. Jarshaw manages the Farmers Co-op Elevator in Middle River.

He's a rawboned, taciturn man wearing a dust-covered, sweat-stained seed cap. His assessment of this year is typically blunt.
Jarshaw: Uh, disaster.
Jarshaw says sales of fertilizer and seed are down about 75 percent this year. He shares the battered office with two cats who sleep undisturbed on an office chair. A large sign behind his desk says, "all sales cash only." Jarshaw says the company can no longer afford to extend credit to farmers. He's managed the elevator for 10 years, and there's never been such dismal conditions.
Jarshaw: This is the wettest spring I've seen. They usually get a crop in. At least some of it. This is the toughest spring I've seen; never seen a spring like this.
It may be that perspectives are skewed after taking a battering for the better part of a decade, but most people you talk to in northwest Minnesota just shake their heads and say they've never seen anything like it.

Karen Fredrickson is one of them. She's district director for the Federal Farm Service Agency. The agency administers federal farm programs and is the place farmers go when banks will no longer loan them money. Fredrickson says there have been nine bad years out of the last 10.
Fredrickson: Every year gets a little bit worse and we're seeing many of the farmers who aren't even able to come in and get an emergency loan because they haven't got any asset left. All their equity is gone.
Fredrickson says unless Congress approves some kind of disaster payments for farmers, she expects bank foreclosures to begin later this summer.
Fredrickson: The last chance was to get this crop this year and make some payment to stop that process. We'll have to wait until closer to fall. I'm certain there will be more foreclosures than we've seen in the past.
Fredrickson says the economy of northwest Minnesota is slowing considerably this summer as the engine driving it sputters to a stop.