In the 1980s, Dave Hesse of Comfrey came through his own financial challenges.
At that time this rural Minnesota farmer began to speak out on behalf of himself and others in the ag industry through what was known as the Groundswell movement.
As that movement was continuing, another concept was beginning to take shape.
How could farmers who were facing financial challenges find someone to help them?
Out of that came what is known today as the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s farm advocate program. Hesse said he was asked to take on the role of an advocate with the idea of serving in that capacity for a couple of years.
“I agreed and have been involved ever since,” said Hesse.
According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, farm advocates “provide one-on-one assistance to Minnesota farmers who face crisis caused by either a natural disaster or financial problems.”
Farm advocates understand the plight of farmers dealing with challenges, not only because they have received training to do that, but because they, as fellow farmers, have seen their share of struggles as well.
It is no secret farmers are facing significant challenges as the 2018 season comes to an end. Hesse recognizes that low prices combined with poor yields this season are creating financial issues for many farmers, adding he knows many of them may be facing challenges they have not faced in a while or ever.
Some farmers, after this season, may be facing the possibility of foreclosure, while others may hear from their lender that they will not be able to get a loan for the upcoming season. So, how can Hesse and the other farm advocates help? When a farmer contacts a farm advocate they set up a time to meet, and then advocates like Hesse sit down with them and go over their financial situation. As a plan is developed, Hesse said their role also can include serving as a mediator to find a solution that will allow the farmer to continue operating.
In fact, he said, when a farmer has been told of a loan default or foreclosure there is a period of time in which they can request mediation. When mediation has been scheduled, Hesse and other farm advocates can then sit down with farmers and put together a balanced budget.
“We can also accompany them to the mediation,” said Hesse, adding whether that be with an attorney or a lender.
The idea is that an option can be developed that will allow the farmer to continue operating, added Hesse. “
It is very gratifying when we can come up with a good solution,” said Hesse.
Hesse said he enjoys the chance to work with people as a farm advocate, because he knows he can be of help to those who feel like they have no other option.
In some cases, Hesse also refers those farmers who are dealing with financial stress to other counselors who can help them deal with the mental side of those challenges. With the rate of suicide among farmers on the rise, just knowing he can sit across the table in the kitchen of a farmer and help give them hope makes what he does worthwhile, said Hesse.
While Hesse lives and farms in the Comfrey area, as a farm advocate he travels quite a bit throughout southern Minnesota.
Hesse said he is already seeing an increase in the number of farmers who are looking for help through the farm advocacy program, and he knows there will be plenty of others who are also looking for assistance.
Hesse said there are a number of farm advocates in the state.
Hesse, who started working as a farm advocate during the farm crisis in the 1980s, said, as the current financial challenges have been increasing, he is starting to see some of those he assisted back in the 80s and 90s for a second time.
There is no charge for assistance from the farm advocate program. Hesse recalled just how bad things got back in the 80s when a murder took place in southern Minnesota. What farm advocates can do is help to defuse problems before they get even worse.
Hesse said he believes the program has been very successful in Minnesota, adding he wants to be there to help others in their time of crisis.
To learn more about the farm advocate program visit the Minnesota Department of Agriculture Web site at www.mda.state.mn.us. Hesse may be contacted at (507) 877-6687. In addition, Steve Zenk of Danube is filling the role of a farm advocate. Contact him at (320) 894-2517