Since I was 18 years old, I’ve consistently held a job with a paycheck. And for a time or two I worked two jobs at the same time to make ends meet.

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Like clockwork, rain or shine, good sales or bad, weekly or bi-weekly, there was a check with my name on it for my efforts. Albeit they may have been a little lighter because of taxes, but they were still paychecks that cleared the bank and paid my bills.

This year, 2019, will likely be known for many in agriculture as the year without pay. Mother Nature decided to metaphorically “lay off” a few farmers by throwing the wettest hissy fit in a 12-month span since records began. Much has been written about the prevented planting of 2019, with flooding and wet conditions making it impossible for farmers to get into their fields to plant corn or soybeans this spring. There’s also been hail and excessive rains that have hurt wheat crops and fledgling cotton crops too.

The difference between those farmers and me is that I didn’t have to fork over my year’s worth of expenses or input costs before clocking in at my job to earn those paychecks. 

My equipment to do my job wasn’t sitting in a barn surrounded by floodwaters. My employer didn’t call off weeks of work on account of weather. And my products were shoes and books sitting on shelves, not last year’s crop sitting in a bin slowly rotting and becoming unsellable because of floodwater seepage. 

If I didn’t like my financial compensation, I was free to move down the road to the next employer. I wasn’t tied to a region by land or by debt. I didn’t have to contemplate selling my home, my car or my household contents because I failed to sell enough at my retail job to pay my debtors.

Sure my credit rating meant that I could get a credit card to front me the money to pay for living expenses or a car loan to pay for my transportation to my job. A government-backed student loan helped me pay for my education to start my career, regardless if I was an A or a C student. Unlike a farmer, I didn’t have to sit in my local lender’s office with five years of production history hoping to restructure my debt or be allowed to increase my carry-over debt for one more gamble at another year of earning a paycheck. 

In May, after the Bomb Cyclone, the Kansas City Federal Reserve reported that 8 percent of new loan requests were being denied because of cash flow shortages. And, more than 30 percent of its respondents in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska increased their collateral requirements for loan applicants. 

I’ve worked for paychecks for 23 consecutive years without a gap. Some farmers are on their 30th, 40th, or even 50th year of crops, and this year marks the first time they face a year without a paycheck at harvest. The financial health of the farm sector was already hammered with trade retaliations, low commodity prices and high production costs when the rains started. A failure to get any crop in the ground at all magnifies these even more. 

If I had a bad month in retail I dined out less and the local community may have felt a pinch. If agriculture can’t get its crops in the ground in order to raise a crop that they can sell to pay their bills the local community feels a punch.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or jlatzke@hpj.com.

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