Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Troubles on the Farm Neither Agricultural nor Political

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Troubles on the Farm Neither Agricultural nor Political

Article excerpt

NEW YORK - Just when city folks are getting aroused about the melodramatized plight of America's farmers, springtime is coming to the fields.

That's the view, not of some callous urbanite, but of Hugh L. Tinley, president of the country's largest farm management company, Omaha-based Farmers National Co.

Tinley, who is a perennially shrewd and ruggedly independent observer of what's actually going on down on the farm, tells me that media and political hysteria likening the present agricultural situation to the disasters of the 1930s is low-grade baloney.

"In the 1930s," he recalls, "everyone was in trouble. Now only about 30-35 percent of farmers are in trouble, and the rest are doing quite well. In the 1930s we had low grain prices. Now we have good grain prices."

In Tinley's view, the problem today is neither agricultural nor political - and certainly does not require another taxpayer-financed bailout by Washington.

"What we're going through," he says, "is simply a financial problem: high debt and high interest rates. The process is painful, but it's a healthy development. In the end, the patient is going to live."

Such optimism contrasts strikingly with most of what is being promulgated these days about U.S. agriculture, but Tinley is no grain-tower Pollyanna. He readily concedes the likelihood that as many as a sixth of those now farming in America will be wiped out in this cycle. (Traditionally gloomy farmers maintain wryly that the latest recession was so bad, "we couldn't even afford to ride our tractors to Washington to complain.")

But Tinley's eyes are unfashionably dry. "I can't help but think it's a good thing," he says. "We have been subsidizing the inefficient."

In taking this view, Tinley is unapologetic - and specific: "Those having problems in this period are mostly younger farmers, born in the 1940s, who may have had excellent agricultural skills but showed little financial acumen. Seeing land prices go up nonstop for eight years, they were ready targets for a banker who would tempt them by saying, "John, if you don't buy that farm next to yours, it's only going to cost more next year.' Equipment dealers made credit too easy, too. …

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