Harvest of Hope/One farm family copes with a crisis

TAKING a jackknife from his well-worn pockets, Bob Clunk kneels down on farmland he used to own. It is land that he inherited but was forced to sell last April. He couldn't make payment on the debts against which the land was leveraged. He now has to rent part of it from the bank, which claimed ownership of the land. As he pokes the soil around his bean sprouts, he hopes that he will not have to hoe this field. He has also lost all his farm machinery to creditors. It's dusk when Bob and Charla Clunk decid e to take a break from the farm chores that have kept them on their feet all day. As lightning bugs begin to flicker in the front yard, the couple make their way from the barn to the porch swing to reflect on the future they face as farmers without land or machinery. The Clunks are one of many family farmers who have recently found themselves caught in the squeeze of lower commodity prices, high interest rates, and deflated land values. The acreage they were once able to use as collateral to buy machinery and run the farm is no longer as valuable as it was in the 1970s, when double-digit inflation nearly quadrupled farmland prices.

``We never really had a savings account. Our savings account was looking out the back door and seeing what we were going to harvest next month.

``Our troubles began in 1982 when our creditors changed their loan policy from land-value collateral to a cash-flow basis. We were in the midst of a livestock plan that we projected would show a profit in five years. Unfortunately we were refused operating loans halfway through it.

``We could have arranged a protest at the auction of our machinery, but I felt it was more appropriate that a local minister say a prayer for all family farms,'' Mr. Clunk reflects. ``It broke my heart to have to see our son witness that sale.''

``But as you see, we haven't given up!'' he says optimistically.

With the help of a part-time job as a representative for the Ohio Farmers Union and the money that Mrs. Clunk earns cleaning houses, they were able to keep their house, barn, and a small plot for a vegetable garden. A surveyor's red stakes clearly mark what land they have left.

``We're also renting some land to plant corn and beans, and we've had help from friends in being able to borrow equipment. It's a bit primitive, but I bought a small hand planter to fill in single rows when we have to. I've just decided that no one is going to force me out of this business. Whatever it takes to get seed in the ground, we're going to do it.

``All I want to do is somehow keep farming, provide a good living for my family, and pass it along to them.''

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