MADISON, Wis. — Federal court data show that a Wisconsin district had the highest amount of farm bankruptcies in the country last year.
The Western District of Wisconsin had 28 farm bankruptcy cases in 2017, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. The district is made up of 44 counties and includes more than half of the state’s geographic area. There are 94 federal court districts in the U.S.
Wisconsin farmers are earning less because of low commodity prices for corn, soybeans and milk. Simultaneously, input costs have remained steady or increased.
“People seem to have jobs, and the economy seems to be going well for most folks,” said Christopher Seelen, an Eau Claire attorney who represents creditors in bankruptcy court. “Unfortunately for some of these farmers who are suffering through these low grain prices, the economy is not going as well for them.”
Rent per acre, debt from purchasing equipment or other investments have caused farms to take on debt, said Rachel Dux, vice president of corn exports for Compeer Financial, a farm credit cooperative.
“Some of that debt is catching up to them with the prices falling. We’re not seeing that income level that can handle the debt loads that they have,” Dux said.
More farmers are turning to seed or equipment companies for lines of credit instead of traditional agriculture lenders, something that could lead to more bankruptcy cases, said Paul Mitchell, director of the Renk Agribusiness Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Farms will have a more difficult time revolving disputes outside of bankruptcy court with the more lenders they have, Seelen said.
“If you just had one lender, maybe that lender would be willing to let you ride it out for another year. But if you’ve got six or seven different lenders on different pieces of equipment, it’s difficult to keep juggling all of those balls in the air,” Seelen said.