A wave of bankruptcies is sweeping the U.S. Farm Belt as trade disputes add pain to the low commodity prices that have been grinding down American farmers for years.
Throughout much of the Midwest, U.S. farmers are filing for chapter 12 bankruptcy protection at levels not seen for at least a decade, a Wall Street Journal review of federal data shows.
Bankruptcies in three regions covering major farm states last year rose to the highest level in at least 10 years. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, had double the bankruptcies in 2018 compared with 2008.
In the Eighth Circuit, which includes states from North Dakota to Arkansas, bankruptcies swelled 96%. The 10th Circuit, which covers Kansas and other states, last year had 59% more bankruptcies than a decade earlier.
States in those circuits accounted for nearly half of all sales of U.S. farm products in 2017, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
The rise in farm bankruptcies represents a reckoning for rural America, which has suffered a multiyear slump in prices for corn, soybeans and other farm commodities touched off by a world-wide glut, made worse by growing competition from agriculture powerhouses such as Russia and Brazil.
For Nebraska farmer Kirk Duensing, filing for bankruptcy was a last resort, his only choice after several years of prices meant too many bills he couldn’t pay.
Mr. Duensing has managed to keep farming, hiring himself out to plant crops for other farmers for extra income and borrowing from an investment group at an interest rate twice as high as offered by traditional lenders. Despite selling some land and equipment, Mr. Duensing remains more than $1 million in debt.
“I’ve been through several dips in 40 years,” said Mr. Duensing. “This one here is gonna kick my butt...”