TEXT OF COMMENTARY
KAI RYSSDAL: The Senate passed the farm bill this afternoon — $286 billion worth of subsidies and food stamps. It still does have to be reconciled with the version the House passed six months ago. And the president is talking veto, anyway.
Commentator Richard Oswald has been a farmer all his life. In debt for most of it. That’s a state he says is as much a part of farming as working in the fields.
RICHARD OSWALD: I signed my first promissory note in 1967. I was 17 years old. To the best of my memory I have not been out of debt since. There’s nothing cheap about farming. Manufacturer-financed at 5.9 percent, harvesters costing $200,000 are a bargain. Seed purchases direct from the company are $4 per pound. Fertilizer, fuel and the rest? My friendly aggie banker is happy to oblige. In the Midwest today the average farm covers about 750 high-priced acres, which points out the fact that some things shouldn’t be bought, not even by a chronic debtor like me.
For instance, our neighbors Herman and Betty have passed away, but their daughter kept the farm. We noticed her driving around with a realtor the other day. She hopes to turn the farm into cash at the rate of $4,000 per acre.
There was no way in hell that I could afford the added debt of 240 acres at a price of nearly $1 million. A downturn in the farm economy and land prices could take everything we own and leave us bankrupt.
Investors are satisfied with a 4 5/8 percent return on their money, and right now $4,000 land will earn that premium. But farm mortgage rates are more than 7 percent. Based on past history, I figured the big farmers around here would buy the farm, anyway. So I did the best I could and offered $3,800 per acre for the 80-acre field across the road. She took it. Relief turned to dread, and then resignation. All I have to do is borrow and repay $304,000.
Now I’m deeper in hock than ever and loving every minute of it. It’ll be a long time before I see a return on the neighboring 80 acres. But that’s the way it is here in Middle America, where we’re willing to give our time away just to do the work we were born to do.
I guess you could say I owe my soul to the company store.
RYSSDAL: Richard Oswald writes for the website Daily Yonder. He grows corn and soybeans on his farm in northwest Missouri.
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