Farm-State Legislatures Faced with Dilemma of Aid to Farmers

Article excerpt

State legislatures in the heart of the Midwest, all but overwhelmed by bursting budgets, are struggling with the mounting dilemma of how to help farmers who are facing financial ruin.

Many of the farm leaders, economists and the lawmakers themselves in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska view the farm crisis as a national problem, with international aspects.

State lawmakers say they know too well there is a limit to what they can do beyond adopting resolutions urging Congress to act. Several states are trying to buy time for strapped farmers and ease the pain of transition for those of them who are simply giving up and moving to other kinds of work.

Meantime, economists say, the Reagan Administration is battling to reduce federal aid to farmers, which they say increases the need for states to take an active role to fully utilize remaining federal programs.

Several farm aid projects are either in motion or under discussion in Kansas. Iowa is trying to educate its farmers on the intricacies of federal loans.

Missouri lawmakers are considering a bill to provide state loans to farmers. In Oklahoma, they are talking of a limited moratorium on farm and ranch foreclosures. And Nebraska is considering legislation to allow farmers facing foreclosure to retain at least a part of their land and holdings.

""There is a limit to what the states can do,'' said Barry Flinchbaugh, a Kansas State University agricultural economist and policy analyst. ""The states are not going to be able to change the basic problems such as increasing farm income, decreasing interest rates, bringing down the value of the dollar and so on.''

One of the toughest areas for farmers and lawmakers alike in all five states is farm credit. Interest rates have been a particularly troublesome problem for farmers dependent on loans to finance their operations.

Lawmakers also are looking long and hard at the emotionally charged issue of increasing farm and ranch foreclosure actions. Coupled with this are programs providing counseling to farm families facing the loss of everything they own.

While land grant universities in Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska all are providing such counseling services, the Kansas Legislature went on to create the Farm Assistance Counseling and Training Referal Program, called FACTS, in 1985.

The program is a joint effort by the Kansas Department of Agriculture and K-State's Cooperative Extension Service. Its first year of operation was funded by $300,000 appropriated by legislators. Since it began operating in July, FACTS has received more than 1,600 calls from people seeking help with financial, legal or job retraining problems.

Kansas legislators also enacted the Emergency Farm Credit Relief Act in 1985. …