In late July, President Donald Trump announced that the White House was dedicating $12 billion in aid to farmers that have become victims of retaliatory global tariffs levied on the U.S. to ease the economic pain in key electoral states in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections. Although Trump has commonly remarked that “tariffs are the greatest,” it seems that rural America bailouts are not helping stave off farming bankruptcies in the heartland.
In the Upper Midwest, farm bankruptcies have doubled recently since their most previous low four years ago, according to a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
“It’s no longer a news story that crop and livestock prices are depressed, given their current multiyear persistence,” the analysts wrote. “Feedback from farmers, agricultural lenders, suppliers, and other interests in the ag sector, gathered informally by the Minneapolis Fed over the past year or so in meetings and other venues, has suggested that farm balance sheets are increasingly stressed.”
From June 2017 to June 2018, 84 farms in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota have filed for chapter 12 bankruptcy protection, “more than twice the level seen in June 2014.”
While situation is not unprecedented, the U.S. central bank warns that “current price levels and the trajectory of the current trends suggest that this trend has not yet seen a peak.”
Bad agricultural loans in the Ninth Federal Reserve District encompassing the aforementioned states are also on the the rise, which affect the asset quality of a particular bank. “In banking jargon,” the report states, “is noncurrent and delinquent loans as a percentage of reserves. So the lower the percentage, the better the asset quality.”
The study states that by the second financial quarter of 2018, asset quality would fall below levels seen in the aftermath of the recession. This is a trend not witnessed in other loan categories, including residential, commercial real estate, construction, industrial, or even consumer loans.
As China, the former world’s largest purchaser of American soybeans, has decided to buy instead from South American countries and elsewhere, depressed prices on farm goods such as corn, dairy, and pork are also likely leading to a spike in Chapter 12 filings.