Down on the Farm: Health care costs, low crop prices pummel producers

 

By Tim Krohn, The Free Press (MN)

June 9, 2019

 

BUTTERFIELD On a muddy spring day, Brian Romsdahl brings a couple of visitors for a ride in his side-by-side recreational vehicle. It's the kind of machine he always coveted but could never justify buying, but he won it at a sportsmen's event.

 

The house, built by his parents for their retirement, is perched on a hill, a sweeping view of a marshy lake below. The original homeplace, with traditional farmhouse and outbuildings, sits next door. His daughter and son-in-law live there but aren't involved in the farm operation.

 

Green John Deere machinery is in the Quonset shed. "We used to have some red ones on the farm, but I told my dad I'd rather drive them than fix them," he said with a grin.

 

In a pasture of lime-green grass stained with mud, a few horses and beef cattle nuzzle through hay spread on the ground.

 

Romsdahl drives down a long field road and over a wooden bridge his dad built several decades ago.

 

He gets out and gestures with his arm over the large expanse of green, hilly pasture land intersected by a stream and dotted with old trees.

 

"This is my happy place."

 

In recent years happy places have been hard to find for Romsdahl, 54, and his wife Therese, 58.

 

Corn and soybean prices tanked years ago and are now below the break-even point. Farmland prices that soared during the farming boom a decade ago have increased real estate taxes. The final blow came when they had to buy health insurance on the private market.

 

"Last year, out-of-pocket we paid $41,000," Therese said. "There was a $7,000 deductible for each of us plus the premiums."

 

Brian said rising costs leave him unable to see a future with any profits.

 

"We pay $20,000 a year in property taxes. You take that and $40,000 for health care costs and it's a blow," he said. "And the input costs, the fertilizer and everything goes up," he said.

 

"In the household we have pared down our living to the absolute basics. We pay our utilities and maintain machinery and don't do much else," Therese said.

 

They said the investors and large farm operations that drove land prices high also drove up taxes.

 

Therese said that while the biggest farms may get through rough times more easily, she worries about where it's all headed.

 

"There are some big farms around, but there's always someone bigger than them. What worries me is the corporate giants are going to own the land and animals and seed and they'll control the whole food supply. That's frightening to me," she said.

 

The Romsdahls have been losing equity the last three years and their banker has been up front with them.

 

"I have an exceptional banker. He's brutally honest," Brian said...

 

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