Nebraska farmers, ranchers can find help on the Rural Response Hotline | TheFencePost.com

Nebraska farmers, ranchers can find help on the Rural Response Hotline

Teresa Clark
for The Fence Post

With the on-going farm crisis, many producers are in a dilemma. Low commodity prices combined with rising costs are preventing many farmers and ranchers from securing operating loans this year.

By calling the Rural Response Hotline, Nebraska farmers and ranchers may be able to find help to alleviate the burden of the current farm crisis. Michelle Soll, the farm and ranch program director for Legal Aid of Nebraska, said the hotline offers many different kinds of help, including financial counseling, stress counseling and legal assistance.

Help is provided by a large network of professionals in the state. "We offer a nice variety of services, all free of charge," Soll said. "We have helped some of our financially distressed producers restructure their debt or sell-down. We can also help producers with a bankruptcy analysis, as a last resort," she said.

Soll shared the plight of one of the many farmers who are struggling to survive the current economic downturn of the farm economy. "We have a producer we were able to help with financing," she said. "He worked through a sell-down process and we helped determine what his capital gains would be. After we did cash flows and financial statements with him, we were able to see his strengths and weaknesses. We helped him set some goals so he could try to work his way out of the situation he was in. He was able to get financing elsewhere, and it is looking positive for him.

"It did put a stress on his relationship with his wife, so they enrolled in a counseling program we offer," she said. "They went to a licensed provider, and we paid for five sessions. Now, they have a healthy marriage, and their cash flow looks good. If they can work through the next year or two with no major disasters, it will be much better for them. They have a plan in place, and everyone is now on the same page," she said.

ONE-ON-ONE

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As a result of the current farm crisis, Soll said call volume has been up this year. In fact, by early Monday morning, Soll said she already had two new cases. One involved a farmer looking to obtain an operating loan. The second was a farmer seeking refinancing. His current lender only agreed to six more months of financing. "We try to help these producers by working on their cash flow, and getting their bookwork up-to-date," she said. "We also look to see if there are any sell-down possibilities, even though there is capital gains. Our financial advisers and farm law attorneys will work with these producers one-on-one," she said. "Their initial conversation will be by phone, but the financial adviser actually goes to their farm to sit down and work with them. They have spent up to four hours on bookwork to determine what can be done. Sometimes, they will bring in a farm law attorney by phone," she said.

The Nebraska Department of Agriculture funds the statewide farm finance clinics offered, where producers can sit down one-on-one, confidentially, with a financial adviser or an attorney. "Our farm finance clinics are always full, with a waiting list in most areas," Soll said. "But, when people need help on an emergency basis, they get first priority over someone who is trying to work through an estate. We refocus our work based on need. As a result, we haven't been doing as much estate planning or transition lately. We have put those cases on the back burner to spend more time working through the financial distress cases," she said.

Farm finance clinics are currently offered in North Platte, Ainsworth or Valentine, Norfolk, Fairbury, Grand Island, Lexington and Alliance. However, Soll said these locations may change this summer to Chadron, Bridgeport, North Platte, Grand Island, Fairbury, Norfolk, and Valentine or Ainsworth.

PROFESSIONAL ANSWERS

The hotline does more than offer financial assistance, Soll said. Some producers call with questions about fence disputes, conservation programs, liens and leases. They help older producers with estate and transition planning and young producers with getting started in the business. "We have a lot of aspects of the farm industry covered, so if they have questions they can give us a call and we will work through their situation," she said.

For the last nine years, the Rural Response Hotline has offered a beginning farmer and rancher program. "We are wrapping that program up in August, unless we receive more funding through a grant," she said.

Through the beginning farmer program, producers can receive help developing a portfolio and cash flow projection. Financial advisers also help beginning producers set goals, find lending and educate them about beginning farmer programs that may be available to them. "Beginning farmers are one of our top priorities," Soll said. "There are quite a few services available just for beginners. It is just a matter of getting them to utilize them, and guide them through that process."

In some cases, beginners may get their start through one generation successfully transitioning to the next. "Some questions arise from generational transition like how is a beginner going to buy equipment from a retiring farmer," Soll said. "There are all types of scenarios out there for beginning farmers, it is just a matter of determining which services are best for them."

For more information about the Rural Response Hotline, see their website at: farmerandrancher.org. The hotline number is (800) 464-0258.

— Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at tclarklivenews@gmail.com.