For many Minnesota farmers, 2018 was a tough year financially. But free, confidential help is available for those who are struggling.

For farmers like Liz and Bob Krocak of Montgomery, programs such as the farm financial counseling service offered through University of Minnesota Extension have been much-needed. The Krocaks decided to share their story publicly to encourage other farmers to ask for help.

“We felt pretty alone out there, without an advocate, without anyone on our side,” Liz Krocak said. “This is our livelihood, our legacy. We’ve worked our whole lives and find ourselves in a position we never expected.”

After four-plus years of low milk prices, the Krocaks—who farm with their son and daughter-in-law—had to sell their 150-head dairy herd in May. Their efforts are focused on keeping the farm that has been in their family for 130 years. They are in their first year as a certified organic farm, growing organic corn, alfalfa, oats and cover crops. They began the transition to organic four years ago, seeking the environmental benefits as well as the potential for higher crop prices.

Last week, the Krocaks were recognized as LeSueur County Outstanding Conservationists by the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

A variety of free programs for financially distressed farmers are available through Extension and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Services such as farmer-lender mediation, mental health hotlines and teams, and farm financial counseling are strictly confidential.

They worked with an Extension farm financial counselor, who Liz described as “wise and compassionate.” The Krocaks also turned to the Department of Agriculture for services offered by mental health counselor Ted Matthews and went through Farmer-Lender Mediation, a program created by the Legislature that is operated through Extension.

“We don’t know how this is all going to shake out for us, but we hope there’s a farm left when we’re done,” Liz Krocak said. “Make that call. Get some advice.”

For many farmers, asking for help is incredibly difficult, said Extension Dean Bev Durgan, “but we also know that sometimes the help available in programs through Extension and MDA can make a difference for farmers, both in their operations and their well-being.”

“We recognize that farmers are under all kinds of pressure right now,” said Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson. “That’s why we want to make sure farmers – and farm family members – know where they can get help when they need it.”

Available resources include:

• Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline, 833-600-2570, ext.1. Free, confidential, 24 hours and seven days a week. Calls are answered by trained staff and volunteers in Minnesota. Call if you or someone you know is struggling with stress, anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to somebody you don’t know.

• Minnesota Farm Advocates has been supported by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture since 1984. There is no charge or fee. Farm Advocates share their expertise and help farmers understand lender policies, bankruptcy laws, mediation, tax laws, USDA’s Farm Service Agency’s loan programs, Farm Credit Services and all other government programs affecting agriculture. Farm Advocates have a network of attorneys, accountants, human service professionals, educators and other sources of information and services.

• Farmers can find information and referrals for mental health counseling, financial counseling, mediation, and many others at www.minnesotafarmstress.com.

• Extension offers free, confidential one-to-one counseling for farmers experiencing financial stress. To set up a confidential appointment with an experienced Extension farm financial analyst, call the Farm Information Line at 1-800-232-9077.

• Extension’s farm finance website has many tools for managing a farm business, including negotiating rent, farm transition planning, crop budget tools and machinery cost estimates.

• Farmer-Lender Mediation (FLM) is an Extension program that provides trained, neutral mediators work to find solutions to financial issues between farmers and their lenders. The mediation is confidential. More details on FLM are available by calling 218-935-5785.

• Women in Ag Network is an Extension program that seeks to connect women to relevant, research-based education and each other.

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