Ag briefs: Farm bankruptcies on rise in Upper Midwest

Wisconsin State Farmer


Farm bankruptcies on the rise in Upper Midwest 

The number of farms filing for bankruptcy is increasing across the Upper Midwest, following low prices for corn, soybeans, milk and beef, according to a new analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

The analysis found that 84 farms filed for bankruptcy in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana in the 12 months that ended in June. That's more than double the number over the same period in 2013 and 2014.

"Current price levels and the trajectory of the current trends suggest that this trend has not yet seen a peak," said Ron Wirtz, an analyst at the Minneapolis Fed.

The increase in Chapter 12 filings reflect low prices for corn, soybeans, milk and beef, The Star Tribune reported. The situation has gotten worse for farmers since June because of the retaliatory tariffs that have closed the Chinese market for soybeans and held back exports of milk and beef. Chapter 12 bankruptcy allows for repayment of debt over three years.

"Dairy farmers are having the most problems right now," said Mark Miedtke, the president of Citizens State Bank in Hayfield. "Grain farmers have had low prices for the past three years but high yields have helped them through. We're just waiting for a turnaround. We're waiting for the tariff problem to go away."

Miedtke said the underlying problem began before the trade issues, with farmers being too efficient for their financial good and demand not keeping pace with the production.

"The picture could start changing this spring," Miedtke said. "We do what we can to try to work with farmers."


Winnebago County grants EAA permit to grow crops at Wittman Regional Airport

The Experimental Aircraft Association is getting into the farming business at Wittman Regional Airport.

The Winnebago County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a permit Tuesday for EAA to lease 45 acres for unrestricted farming, including soybeans, alfalfa, hay and corn, and another 38 acres for low-growth farming (so no corn).

At a rental rate of $175 an acre, the total rent for the first year will be $14,175. The permit has been approved from Jan. 1 to the end of 2021, so the total amount of revenue gained by the agreement will be $42,525.

No farming will be allowed on the property between July 15 and Aug. 5, so AirVenture will be relatively free of hay dust.


Illegal shooting of elk under investigation

The Wis. Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Law Enforcement is investigating two illegal elk shootings in Monroe and Jackson Counties that occurred during the 9-day gun-deer season.

An adult bull elk was shot and killed after being misidentified by a man who was deer hunting near Warrens on Nov. 17. The individual who shot the elk self-reported the incident to the department after realizing he misidentified the elk for a deer.

The elk was seized and confiscated in accordance with Wisconsin law; and, all the meat will be salvaged and donated to the Jackson County Food Pantry.  

The second elk, an adult cow, was shot on the Jackson County Forest on Monday morning, Nov. 19.

The DNR is looking for information to help identify a suspect in that case. Anyone with information regarding the case is encouraged to call the confidential tip line at 1-800-TIP-WDNR (1-800-847-9367).

For many years Hunter Safety classes in Wisconsin have stressed the importance of being sure of your target and what lies beyond as part of the TABK process.   

Conservation Warden Lt. Robin Barnhardt said: “Hunters need to make sure they are always following the four rules of firearm safety.  This ensures the safety of other people, but it is also necessary to avoid the accidental shooting of non-target animals.  In addition, hunters that are within or near the Black River and Clam Elk ranges need to be aware that they may encounter an elk.” 

Hunters can find a map of the two established elk ranges in Wisconsin by using keyword search “Elk” at  Elk can occasionally be found outside of the designated elk ranges so it is important that hunters in areas adjacent to the elk ranges also be on the lookout for elk and properly identify their target.


Missouri farmer charged with illegally using weed killer

A southeast Missouri farmer has been indicted on federal charges of illegally applying a weed killer blamed for drifting and damaging crops in neighboring fields.

A 53-count federal indictment was announced Tuesday against Bobby David Lowrey, 51, of Parma. He is accused of illegally applying the herbicide dicamba on his cotton and soybean crops outside of Environmental Protection Agency guidelines , and lying to investigators when confronted about it.

Lowrey does not have a listed attorney who can speak on his behalf. A phone number for his home is no longer in service.

Dicamba has long been on the market, but problems have occurred in recent years as farmers began to plant new seeds engineered to be resistant to the herbicide. Dicamba can easily evaporate after being applied and can drift on the wind into neighboring fields.

The indictment said crops planted by Lowrey in 2016, which cover 6,700 acres, were modified to be resistant to dicamba. Federal prosecutors say Lowrey didn't follow the rules and then lied when the Missouri Department of Agriculture investigated after neighboring farmers reported crop damage.

Lowrey faces 49 counts of misapplication of a pesticide, three counts of obstruction of justice, and one count of making a false statement. He could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.


State denies permit to Arkansas hog farm 

An Arkansas environmental regulatory agency denied a permit for a hog farm on Nov. 19 because of concerns that pig waste might be contaminating the nearby Buffalo River.

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality issued a final decision that C&H Hog Farm in Vendor can no longer operate. Its decision followed a period of public comment after the department initially denied the permit for the farm in September.

The department first denied the farm's permit in January, but the farm appealed to the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, which sent the decision back to the department in August. The farm appealed that decision as well, and in October a judge ordered a stay on the department's decision to deny the permit in September.

In its report, the department said it was denying the permit because of concerns that waste produced by the farm was contaminating the nearby Big Creek and Buffalo River. It tested two areas of each body of water close to the farm and found that all four "failed to meet water quality standards" under the department's regulations. Additionally, testing revealed higher levels of nitrates in the water and phosphorous in the soil.

The department found parts of the farm sit on a geological topography called karst, which is characterized by soft rock eroded by rainwater. Although the farm commissioned studies which found no karst in areas near pig waste, the department disagreed and said further geological assessments should have been done to properly determine the environmental safety of the farm.

Attorney Richard Mays, who represents two groups which oppose the farm, called its location "one of the worst places you could put a hog farm."

"I think the science is overwhelming to support the conclusion that it's not in a good location, it should have never been put there in the first place and that it should cease operations," Mays said.

But Arkansas Farm Bureau Public Relations Vice President Steve Eddington says other studies have found no impact from the farm on the river, and the issue has not been resolved by the department's decision.

"I think this is just ultimately going to be resolved in court and it's been headed that way for some time. The decision today is certainly not a surprise to anybody," Eddington said.

Representatives for C&H could not be reached for comment. The farm can still appeal the department's final decision.