Indiana farmers struggle financially, hopeful for better year in 2021

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INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana farmers who’ve been struggling financially amid the pandemic are finally getting some relief.

After a small stimulus package in June, thousands of Hoosier farmers will receive a bigger payout this fall and winter. Many are hoping it will keep them afloat into the next year.

“We have been very dependent on government assistance,” Phil Ramsey admitted. “Going into last fall, when we started plans for 2020, it was kind of bleak because we came off a year with – not terrible yields – but they weren’t good either.”

Ramsey is a fourth-generation farmer from Shelbyville who grows soybeans, corn and wheat.

“Lots and lots of uncertainties going into the beginning of 2020,” he described. “It was really tough to make decisions, but we did what we always do. We planned for the best.”

At the beginning of the year, Ramsey said they faced several challenges. The value of the dollar was high, so other countries weren’t buying commodities from the United States as much. There were also tariffs to think about.

“Our marketing advisers said starting last fall – in the fall of 2019 – we’ll have better prices, get to spring, things will be better. Hang on to your corn crop. Then, things started going down and down and they said, ‘Well, just hang on, it’s going to be OK.’ Well, then it wasn’t OK.”

The coronavirus really took hold of the world in March. Ramsey said they didn’t know how the pandemic would affect his operation, but he soon found out.

“All of a sudden, it was like, no ethanol demand because the gas went to nothing. The ethanol plants were shutting down and there goes our biggest buyer of corn,” he explained.

Ramsey said they weren’t making a profit, selling their corn at under $3 per bushel.

“If you wanted to be slightly depressed, you had lots of reasons,” he said.

Ramsey received the first round of payments earmarked for farmers in June. He said it wasn’t much, though. The payout likely covered about 25 percent of what he lost. Now, he’s going into the new year with a second stimulus payment. As of September, he planned to sign up for that assistance.

“I know how much I’m getting. It doesn’t make us whole, but it’s close,” he said. “It’s another piece of the pie.”

Ramsey said one thing Hoosiers need to understand is that not only do farmers need to break even, they need to make a profit. This is how they feed their families.

Dairy Farmers say they, too, are drying out

“We usually start around 4:30, 5:00 every morning,” Charlie Carter of Carterly Farms told CBS4 as he milked his 100 cows. “365 days, twice a day, Christmas included.”

Carter is a third-generation dairy farmer in Thorntown. He, too, has felt a financial burden this year.

“It’s been tough for everybody. I don’t care if you’re large or small,” he said, knowing he has a smaller farm operation in the state. “The market has gotten disrupted with the economic shutdown. Markets all the way from top to bottom got disrupted.”

Carter said he, like dozens of other dairy farmers, had to continue their operations through the pandemic. The cows still had to be fed and the animals still needed to be milked. The problem for some dairy farmers, though, was that afterward, they had nowhere to go with all that milk.

“I have been told in northern Indiana, there were a few farms that had to dump,” he said. “I hate to see food wasted and that’s basically what happened.”

Carter did receive a payout in June.

“It puts us at a point where we can keep the bills paid. It didn’t get us anything ahead, but it did help us pay the current bills.”

He planned on applying for the second stimulus package as well.

“As we started in the 2020, it looked like prices were finally going to give us a break and we were hopeful that we were finally were going to have a chance to make some decent money. Then, COVID hit and that just disrupted the market and took it all away,” Carter told CBS4. “We’re hoping for better days.”

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