Kansas farmer Hoops meets hard times with caring family
Republic County, Kan.
How do you picture farm life? A quiet back road, comfortable house, spacious lawn, an old barn, acres of land with rich soil, and the peaceful satisfaction of a hard day's work in the sun?Skip to next paragraph
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Except for the peaceful satisfaction, these words come close to describing the farm Harvey Hoops and his wife, Deloris, have here, just below the Nebraska border.
Serious financial strains have hit the family, as they have many farm families, in the past several years, and the ''fun'' of farming has faded for him, he says. Whether it will ever come back remains to be seen.
A gravel road runs by their one-story house. The house was expanded as the family grew. A closely cut lawn wraps around the house on three sides. On the fourth side, beyond the driveway and the garage, which supports a basketball hoop that has seen years of use by the children (five boys), is open, bare ground, where tractors and other machinery are often temporarily parked. Beyond that is an assortment of pointed-roof grain-storage bins, sheds, and an old barn. And beyond that lie some of the approximately 1,300 acres the family farms (including several hundred acres of rented land) in corn, soybeans, and wheat.
But the cattle yard is empty. Prices got so low he sold the last cattle this spring. They still have some 600 hogs, but hog prices have not been high either. Early this month, wheat harvesting was good, but now, wheat prices are low, too. Corn and soybean prices are a little more encouraging.
Fairly low crop prices, high interest rates, huge yearly debts, and rising equipment costs have combined to make farming more of a chore than a joy, Harvey explains in a lengthy interview with him and his wife. As we talk, seated around the kitchen table, sons come in from working the fields; one of two daughters-in-law plays with her baby on the living-room rug.
Says Deloris of her husband's attitude toward farming: ''He doesn't have his heart in it anymore.''
''All you're doing is just barely staying alive,'' he says. ''It's survival time. And it's going to take years before we can get back (to more favorable income).''
He is tired of yearly debts of more than $300,000 - on land mortgages and loans for production costs (for fertilizers, chemicals, parts, electricity, among other things), high interest payments (more than $30,000 last year), the uncertainty of crop and livestock prices, rising equipment costs, including $950 tires for combines he uses to harvest wheat.
Is he making or loosing money? ''Just holding our own,'' he says, leaning back in his chair. He gives an example: You may make $40,000 one year on cattle sales, then lose $40,000 the next year as cattle prices drop. ''What did you make? Zero. You just worked . . . two years for what? Why does anybody want to do that ?'' he asks.
''If I didn't have any kids, I'd of just walked out of this thing five years ago, which I probably should have done anyway.'' But, he adds, he is stuck with big debts - and some of the kids want to farm.