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Witnesses Testify Emotionally About Farm Crisis Before Senators

February 11, 1987

UNDERWOOD, Iowa (AP) _ Witnesses at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing Tuesday said they are stretched to the limit in trying to preserve a rural lifestyle amid the farm depression.

″The people fighting to stay on the land don’t need a degree in education to know this is where they want their children nurtured,″ said Dorothy Wurster of Tingley, her voice breaking. ″What we need in America is more people on the land, not less.″

Mrs. Wurster, a teacher whose husband runs a farm supply store, and other witnesses described the effects of the agricultural depression to five Democratic senators. The committee is conducting three days of hearings in the Midwest.

Charlotte Reif, who described herself as a ″country preacher″ in Guthrie County, told the senators and an audience of 350 that suicides have increased and children are losing hope.

″We are stretched to the limit, gentlemen,″ she said. ″Have mercy upon us.″

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, told the other committee members that his state could become a wasteland unless the rural situation improves.

Iowa has lost 62 percent of its equity base in the past five years, Harkin said. While farmers face a negative return on equity, the nation’s large food processors are making money, he said.

″I’m not against them making a profit, but our farmers deserve a fair share of those profits,″ he said.

At a hearing earlier Tuesday in nearby Omaha, Neb., James Kirk, president of the Farm Credit Services of Omaha, said his four-state district is aggressively trying to reduce bad loans. He said 29 percent of Farm Credit Services loans are classified as non-earning.

″We intend to work with borrowers who can demonstrate their ability to return to financial viability,″ Kirk said. ″It is beneficial to both the borrower and the bank to avoid lengthy, complex and expensive legal actions.″

Kirk said the Farm Credit Services, which has customers in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota and Wyoming, will try to sell $200 million in farmland and ranchland it has acquired.

″We wish to return the ownership of the land to the hands of the farmers and the ranchers of this district as quickly as possible,″ he said.

Gene Severens, an attorney for the Center for Rural Affairs in Walthill, said the Farmers Home Administration should concentrate on lending money to family farmers to buy land.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the committee, said the Reagan administration has purposely reduced the FmHA’s effectiveness.

″The administration is doing by inaction what they couldn’t do by congressional action,″ Leahy said. ″They’d better learn they are going to have to follow the law just like anyone else.″

Senators attending the hearings besides Harkin and Leahy were Edward Zorinsky of Nebraska, Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Kent Conrad of North Dakota.

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