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HPPR Economy and Enterprise

Western Kansas farming family featured in Wall Street Journal article about struggling ag economy

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A western Kansas farming family struggling to keep their fifth-generation farming operation afloat amidst a slump in corn, wheat and other commodity prices is featured in a Wall Street Journal article about the struggling farm economy.

The ongoing slump in corn, wheat and other commodity prices, caused by global oversupply, is putting many farmers in debt and in some cases, resulting in farm closures.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent estimate is that American farmers’ incomes will drop 9 percent in 2017, which as the WSJ reports, extends the steepest slide since the Great Depression into a fourth year.

“You keep pinching and pinching and pretty soon there’s nothing left to pinch,” said Craig Scott, a fifth-generation farmer in Ransom, Kan.

Even though the Scotts, who farm 1,200 acres of alfalfa, sorghum and wheat, harvested one of their best wheat crops ever last year, due in large part to plentiful rain and a mild winter, Scott isn’t sure how long they can afford to keep farming that ground.

The combination of low grain prices with the high cost of seeds, fertilizer and equipment resulted in a $120-per-acre loss. Not wanting to face those kinds of losses again, Scott decided not to plant 170 acres of winter wheat.

“No one just grain farms anymore,” said Deb Stout, whose sons Mason and Spencer farm the family’s 2,000 acres in Sterling, Kan.

Both have side jobs, which Stout said, seems like the only way to make farming work.

The growth in the global farm economy has decreased American farmers’ share of global grain trade from 65 percent in the mid-1970s to 30 percent today and corn prices over the past decade have shot up and dropped by more than $4 a bushel.

And over the past decade, farmers across the globe added 180 million new acres, resulting in stockpiles of grain that many farmers are sitting on until prices improve.

The WSJ reports that farms over the past two centuries have grown bigger and more specialized and that large-scale operations now account for half of U.S. agricultural production, but most are still run by families.

The article also includes information about the global farm economy and its impact on American farmers.