Don't foreclose the family farm

In enacting a new farm relief bill last week, the House Agriculture Committee has sent an important message to farmers in general and the Reagan administration in particular. The message: it is time to stop the sharp rise in farm foreclosures taking place throughout the United States. Both houses of Congress are considering a reasonable and modest relief bill. Many Republicans who have to run next year realize their party could lose farm state votes if the administration persists in opposing the legislation.

What is happening in farming communities is cause for concern. Hard hit by the recession, farm income last year was down to about $20 billion, off sharply from $32 billion in the late 1970s. The delinquency rate on loans from the Farmers Home Administration, meantime, shot up to 25 percent in fiscal year 1982 . Some 8,000 farmers last year either saw their farms foreclosed, declared bankruptcy, or sold their holdings to pay off bills.

Surely if the United States government can intervene to provide financial relief to nations abroad that cannot meet debt payments to US bankers, it can take steps to save its own farmers from financial disaster. The package approved by the House committee would do that by delaying foreclosures on Farmers Home Administration loans in special hardship cases and by providing more money - $ 600 million - in emergency loans. Somewhat similar legislation has also cleared the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The Reagan administration is fighting the relief package, arguing that enough credit is available in the private sector to preclude the need for additional federal aid. The administration also maintains that the farmers facing foreclosure tend to be those farmers who overextended themselves by acquiring new machinery and land when the agricultural economy was booming.

There is some truth to the administration's analysis. But what must also be recognized is that those farmers now most likely to face financial disaster tend to be family farmers - as opposed to corporate or partnership farm enterprises. Surely the US does not wish to lose its remaining family farm component at a time when farming is becoming increasingly a corporate venture.

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