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Indiana Farmer Anxious for Quick Economic Rebound

Sarah Kuper

Beyond the health crisis of COVID-19, the local economy is in crisis as a result of the pandemic. Gibson County farmer Nick Michel is feeling the effects on his family farm. 

"Our uncles are the fourth generation, Jon and I are the fifth generation and we are raising the sixth,” said Michel.

His family are row crop farmers -- corn, soy beans, and wheat. For decades, hard work, sacrifice and ingenuity have been the antidotes to hard times, but Nick Michel said there is a new threat with no remedy - COVID-19.

“When coronavirus hit the grain market and people stopped driving their cars, plus the Russians and Saudis got into it over crude oil, that sent crude oil down, gas demand crashed, ethanol followed. Ethanol plants started shutting down. Almost 100% of corn we grow here goes to local ethanol plants."

So while stay-at-home orders helped slow the spread of the virus, Michel said the resulting empty highways hurt Indiana farmers.

"Depending on how good of a grain marketer you are, if you sold at the right time you are okay. But the reality is, farmers in general sell incrementally over the year and we have some corn here at our farm that wasn't sold. So one day you sell it for four dollars and the next day selling for $3.30."

A bushel of corn .70 cents cheaper doesn’t seem like a big deal. But Indiana farmers are selling tens of thousands of bushels. And if they lose almost a dollar on each one? That could add up to losing the farm.

Credit Sarah Kuper

While row crop farmers watch prices plummet, livestock and dairy farmers are facing a different reality. COVID-19 cases forced meat processing plants to shut down. Restaurants stopped needing farmers’ goods. Michel said he saw farmers make impossible decisions:

"We have neighbors and friends who were having to dump their milk down the drain, people with livestock and full grown pigs they can't take anywhere to get slaughtered and the cattle market suffered. It is a major deal for rural America."

Michel said COVID-19 isn’t just affecting farmers financially. The pandemic is forcing them to have uncomfortable and uncharacteristic conversations.

“Rural America - we are a lot of hard headed people who hold our emotions in, even within our own family we don't talk about what we are going through. I think for the first time in my short farming career I've actually opened up and told my wife that this is really hard right now. This is real and I think that's what we need to do more of honestly.

The federal government is offering aid to farmers. But Michel said most farmers would rather have a strong market than a handout from the government. But he doesn’t foresee a strong market in the near future so when the paper work is available, he will be filling it out.

“It worried me a little bit, thinking about what this winter will look like if we don’t see a rebound,” he said.

The next few years will be lean, but Michel thinks his farm will pull through. He does fear that if the economy doesn’t improve in the next year, COVID-19 could mean the end for many Indiana family farms.