Farm bankruptcies soar to highest totals since 2001

BELLEVUE, Iowa (KCRG) -- New data shows more farmers in Iowa are struggling to make ends meet- leading to a significant spike in farms declaring bankruptcy.

According to numbers from the Iowa Farm Bureau, just five years ago in 2013, only four farms declared Chapter 12 bankruptcy. In 2017, the total number of Chapter 12 bankruptcies climbed to 18- the highest total since 2001. Now farmers across the state are left waiting for the market to bounce back, while surviving in the meantime.

"Just like every market does, we're back on the downturn of prices," said James Cornelius, a fifth-generation farmer from Bellevue.

Farmers may have tricks of the trade, but it is not a trade secret that it has become more of a financial struggle for agriculture in Iowa over the recent years.

"They're crunching their pennies," said Janie Cornelius, Technology Lead at Cornelius Seed. "They're penciling it all out, figuring out their cost of productions. That's the big part is knowing- they need to know what their break-even is."

"Input costs are still up," James Cornelius said, describing the current climate of agriculture in the state. "They haven't come back down, they might have actually been slow to rise, according to the market price and they're slow to correct back down. It's really making everybody crunch their budget."

Both James and Janie Cornelius do more than farm their land. They also provide seed to the tri-state area. As a fifth generation farmer, James Cornelius said he understands how the ups and downs can cause problems.

"It's an emotional business- you're proud of producing for the world," James Cornelius said. "And you're happy that you've had an acre. And sometimes the thing is looking at: 'is that farm something we have to keep, or do we have to let that go?'"

Cornelius said it could end up a struggle for at least another three years. Other farmers agree, telling TV9 it has been a challenge this and recent years past. with depressed commodity prices, poor yields in some areas, and costs continuing to rise, it has been difficult to break-even.

James and Janie Cornelius say say the best way to head in the right direction, is increase the attention to detail.

"I think we just need to make better informed, data-driven decisions versus just saying 'yeah, let's try that this year, or let's try that on this farm,'" Janie Cornelius said.

"Ask for input from your seed adviser, from your banker, from your local farmers," James Cornelius said. "Find the groups that you can get input- what they're doing to make work."

Janie Cornelius said in some instances, it might make sense to spend money to make money, especially utilizing digital agriculture. She said it could allow for a better use of the land, and a larger return on investment.