MFU calls for moratorium on farm foreclosures, improved credit access, extension for farm mediation during pandemic
April 3, 2020
Farmers have been dealing with low income for years. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the economic difficulties in agriculture, costing family farmers access to markets and labor resources.
With all of this, Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU), a grassroots family farm organization, sent two letters – one to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, Attorney General Keith Ellison and state legislative leaders; and one to all ten members of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation – calling on these policy makers to take immediate action to support family agriculture during the pandemic.
“This crisis comes on the heels of the challenges farmers were already grappling with, including a costly trade war, unpredictable weather events and record-low farm incomes propped up only in part by federal trade mitigation, the future of which is uncertain,” MFU President Gary Wertish said in the letter to the Congressional delegation.
Both letters called for a moratorium on farm foreclosures and improved access to affordable credit.
“In the 1980s farm crisis, Minnesota led the way by placing a moratorium on farm foreclosures, which preceded a federal suspension of farm foreclosures,” President Wertish said in the letter to state leadership. “Given the state of the agriculture economy before the pandemic, and the new challenges this crisis has presented for farmers, it is clear that Minnesota’s leadership is again needed in order to give many farm families a fighting chance and preserve the economic future of their rural communities.”
He also asked both groups to work with ag lenders to help farmers access necessary financing, and to make farmers eligible for emergency loans granted because of the pandemic.
The letter to the federal delegation, found here, also asked for stronger provisions in the farm safety net, including the Dairy Margin Coverage program, as well as action to defend competition in the agricultural economy, a response to falling income for beef and dairy producers despite increased consumer demand.
The letter to Minnesota state leaders, available here, additionally asked for an extension to the deadline on farmer-lender mediations.
“Mediations—even in the best of circumstances—are inherently high-stress, often emotional and best done through face-to-face meetings that are currently untenable due to the ‘Stay at Home’ order and concerns over public health,” President Wertish said. “Extending the deadline would both give farmers and lenders more time to reach a mutually beneficial plan for managing debt and allow them to resume this work when they are able to do so in-person.”
MFU is grateful for the actions taken so far, including the agricultural provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress, and the adjustments to allow the Minnesota Rural Finance Authority Board to extend Disaster Recovery Loans to farmers affected by COVID-19 passed by the Minnesota Legislature. But more needs to be done to support farmers now and into the future.
“These real challenges, coupled with the critical nature of our food system and agriculture economy, make it imperative that you take action to give farmers urgent and needed financial relief,” President Wertish said.
# # #
Minnesota Farmers Union—Standing for Agriculture, Working for Farmers (www.mfu.org)