More U.S. farmers are filing for bankruptcy, as federal payments projected to reach record levels this year fall short of compensating for the coronavirus pandemic and a yearslong slump in the agricultural economy.
About 580 farmers filed for chapter 12 bankruptcy protection in the 12-month period ended June 30, according to federal data. That was 8% more than a year earlier, though bankruptcies slowed slightly in the first half of 2020 partly because of an infusion of federal aid and hurdles to filing during the pandemic, according to agricultural economists and attorneys.
The pandemic has pressured prices for many commodities, squeezing farmers who raise crops and livestock, and prolonging a six-year downturn in the Farm Belt.
The Trump administration is expected to dole out a record $33 billion in payments to farmers this year, according to the University of Missouri’s Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute. The funds, including those intended to help farmers hurt by trade conflicts and the coronavirus, would push government payments to 36% of farm income, the highest share in nearly two decades, the institute said.
Hog farmers have lost nearly $5 billion in actual and potential profits for 2020, according to the National Pork Producers Council, a trade group. In California, agricultural businesses stand to lose as much as $8.6 billion, according to a study commissioned by the California Farm Bureau Federation.
U.S. farm debt has grown steadily since then to more than $425 billion this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. That is the largest sum since a farm crisis in the 1980s that pushed many farmers and lenders out of business.
Buoyed by $16 billion in direct payments to farmers to mitigate pandemic-related losses, farm income might tick down just 3% this year to $90.6 billion, the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute predicted in June. As of this week, less than $7 billion of the funds had been distributed, according to USDA.
If more aid isn’t extended, farm income is expected to fall 12% to $79.4 billion in 2021, according to the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute. Government payments would drop by half to less than $17 billion.
Congress is debating further financial support for farmers, and USDA could offer more aid from the $14 billion earmarked earlier this year to replenish the Commodity Credit Corp., a funding mechanism for agriculture. A spokesperson said USDA is evaluating the impact of Covid-19 on agriculture as it considers a second round of payments.