Throughout the troubled Farm Belt, dozens of private and state-supported organizations have sprung up since 1982 to counsel farmers and their families on ways to deal with the stress of bankruptcy, foreclosure and failure.
A new report from the Agriculture Department's Cooperative Extension Service, detailing financial management and counseling programs supported by the federal government, takes another look at the dimensions of the problem.
The report says that while extension agents have worked with 96,500 farm families since late 1983, it estimates that 260,000 more farm families will need "intensive assistance" during the next year, and more than 63,000 of those already assisted will need more counseling.
Extension administrator Mary Nell Greenwood reported that in addition to direct assistance, another 80,000 economically pressed farm families, mostly in the Midwest, were counseled by a cadre of 15,600 specially trained farmers, teachers and lenders.
Extension's report found that nearly half of the troubled farm families who received counseling said that they intended to continue full-time farming, 24 percent planned to take off-farm jobs to help make ends meet, and about 8 percent said that things were so dire they would not continue farming.
The USDA report painted a particularly grim picture in Minnesota and Iowa. It said that Minnesota is losing a higher percentage of farms than the national average, and that average earnings of full-time farmers in 1984 hit a 30-year low. "About one-third of Minnesota farmers have significant cash flow problems," Extension said.
In Iowa, about a third of the farmers have debt-to-asset ratios of 70 percent or more -- a benchmark figure that economists use to mean irreversible impending collapse. Worse, off-farm job possibilities are increasingly slim.
WILL HE, WON'T HE? . . . The Block-is-leaving rumors continue to sprout as predictably as weeds in summer heat. Yet Agriculture Secretary John R. Block, tired of responding to questions about a supposedly imminent departure, continues to outlive the rumors.
GOP insiders now say that the secretary will quit soon after Congress completes its work on a new farm bill. The latest street talk among agricultural lobbyists has Block going to work for a national pork producers group after the new year begins. But if Block is leaving, he's giving no hints. In fact, he is quick to tell questioners how he intends to enforce certain sections of the new farm bill. Read that: He'll be around awhile.