Quality of Life Program is Boom for Farm Families

James H. Jensen, farm management field specialist

Situation
The depressed Iowa economy is proving to be a trying time for the citizens of Iowa, especially for the farm families. The past couple of years the budget crisis in the state of Iowa has progressively worsened with the end result being increased unemployment, decreased state services, and increased mental health and bankruptcy problems. Farming is a major component of Iowa’s income stream and the farm sector has been having problems for longer than the general state economy. Profit margins for farmers are thin, and the return on farmers’ investments have been low to negative. A complicating factor is that the average age of Iowa farmers and the average age of Iowa landowners are extremely high. Young people are not being lured back to the farm because of poor profits, and those who try to farm suffer from the thin earning potential. All of these problems put the farm sector at risk for increased bankruptcies and family problems.

Response
Iowa State University Extension has been assisting new start-up farmers by answering questions and holding meetings on topics deemed helpful to clients in coping with the farm income recession. Various Iowa State University Extension specialists have attempted to provide cutting edge information in each of their individual subject matter areas. The part that was missing was a way to coordinate and focus the information to fit the needs of the struggling clients. To address that problem, Iowa State University Extension developed a program that featured the specialists from ISU working as a team in analyzing the farm family’s needs and developing a cross-discipline plan of how to deliver what was needed. These teams varied from three to seven people who focused on solving the problem or problems that were found. The team approach put all the resources of ISU together to treat the client's needs. The program was partially funded through grant money.

Impact
The impact of the program was that families with problems found a free, sympatric ear to discuss their present situation and receive advice on options. Options were discussed and put in black and white for the families to consider. Economic impacts were estimated and presented through computer generated programs. Fourteen family operations participated in the program in 2003. There were 11 participants during the 2002 year. The problems addressed varied from bringing a son into the operation to dealing with a lack of family time for individual family members. Financial and production analysis pointed the way for changes in the farm operations with some participants claiming that the program saved them $100,000 in just 2003. These savings would continue in following years.

Page last updated: July 8, 2006
Page maintained by Linda Schultz, lschultz@iastate.edu