Helping Farmers Cope.
When the farm crisis of the ’80s forced Ralph Dixon to stopfarming, he lost much more than his land and his home. He losthis identity.”I was a fourth generation farmer and every generationhad been successful, except me,” remembers Dixon. “WhenI lost my farm, I lost not only my way of making a living, I lostmy history and my culture. I may not be farming now, but I’m stilla farmer.”Farmers Facing Tough DecisionsBecause of Georgia’s current farm crisis, many farmers arefacing the same tough decisions Dixon faced more than a decadeago.”We’ve come to a point where we have to face reality.There’s not a lot we can do about the weather and the commodityprices, but we can help farmers deal with the situation,”said Bill Lambert, associate dean for extension at the Universityof Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences(UGA CAES).Preparing to HelpLambert was one of a host of speakers at a workshop called”Helping Georgia Farmers at Risk” Nov. 30 in Perry.The workshop was designed to train the state’s county ExtensionService agents and community teams to help Georgia farmers handlethe effects of the farm crisis.County agents attended the workshop with clergymen and farmlenders from their counties. These teams are preparing to serveas valuable resources for farmers facing the crisis in their counties.”Georgia farmers are coming off of two years of bad weatherconditions and low commodity prices,” said Lambert. “Weare looking at what we can do to help farmers deal with theiremotional and financial problems.”Gale Buchanan, dean and director of the UGA CAES, said thecurrent farm crisis will affect farmers and rural communitiesfirst, but will eventually affect everyone in the state. “There’sa ripple affect when farming suffers,” said Buchanan. “Everyonein Georgia will be affected.”Farm Bill, Drought, Prices to BlameBuchanan said the farm crisis is also the result of the 1996Freedom to Farm Bill. “The bill was designed to remove governmentcontrol from farming and since then, 262 Georgia farmers havequit farming,” said Buchanan. “Federal appropriationsare helping the remaining farmers hold on. But, in my opinion,they are not the cure.”He said Georgia’s farmers need agricultural research to helpthem succeed. “We at the university are always searchingfor new alternative crops that can help Georgia farmers,”said Buchanan. “The new carrot industry is just one example.”The “Helping Georgia Farmers at Risk” workshop includedfinancial training on family budgeting, evaluating financial status,debt management and federal farm aid. The county teams also receivedcounseling training on stress management and depression.Farmers Need Support from Family and FriendsAs aformer farmer, Dixon said he feels the most important thing farmersneed during times of crisis is support from their friends andfamily. “When you are sick, people come to visit,” hesaid. “But if you are going under financially, people stayaway. They don’t know what to say. I say, don’t stay away.”Dixon said he never imagined he would fail at farming. “Iwas part of the world’s oldest profession – agriculture,”said Dixon. “After all, Adam and Eve were farmers.”The former farmer remembers feeling displaced and depressedafter losing his farm.”We came out of our life’s work with $3,000 and an oldChevrolet with a bad transmission,” he said. “I cantell you that seeing your name on a foreclosure notice in thenewspaper is a very humbling experience.”Today, Dixon is a Methodist minister and his wife is a bankteller. “We paid everyone we owed and avoided bankruptcy,but we owed good people,” said Dixon. “We still livein our hometown and I’m not ashamed to walk the streets of Sylvania,Georgia.”Dixon says his only regret is that he never sought impartialfinancial advice. “There are a lot of situations like minehappening all across Georgia today,” he said. “I praythat everyone survives this crisis, but some may not.”