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Special Report: Nebraska farmers battle troubling market, lean times

(KSNB)
Published: Nov. 23, 2016 at 9:24 PM CST
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Harvest is all but over for farmers in Nebraska, and 2016 will be remembered as a down year, reaching crop values not seen since the 1980s.

So, I wanted to know what it was like to be a farmer in this declining market, and I went to Nance County to find out.

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"We're the only industry in that we're told what we're going to pay for our product, we're told what we're going to receive for our product and everything in between," farmer and rancher Ryan Sonderup said. "We have no control of what we get or what we do."

2016 hasn't been the best year for farmers and ranchers of Nebraska.

"A lot of it is praying," said Ryan's father Mark. "To know when to walk and when to run."

Crop values are down - at times matching the lows seen back in the 1980s, but what has made this year's harvest particularly troubling is it's not just crop values.

"It's very unusual that the cattle market - or livestock in general, cattle and hogs - and the crops are at low prices at the same time," Mark said.

"I've been through a cycle like this already," Ryan added. "The younger guys that are coming back from four or five, six, eight years even - they've never seen a year where they haven't made money."

For Mark and Ryan Sonderup, a father-son farming tandem out of Nance County, they know prices ebb and flow in the farm markets, so they are getting a bit more innovative with their practice.

"What we're doing is we're pulling a cobb caddy behind collecting feed, and that will help us lower our input and and feed costs for the cattle," Ryan said.

The recent November general election has provided a jolt to the Ag industry, and for the Sonderup's, they're a bit unsure in which direction it will go, but they are hoping President-Elect Donald Trump keeps his word on doing away with several EPA regulations on farming.

"We don't need someone to tell us what to do," Ryan said. "Yes, in any industry, any people in general, you're going to have your group outside the box I guess that pushes that envelope, but for the majority of it, I guess it's good that he's going to back off on some of the regulations."

While this year's harvest has come and passed for most farmers, both Mark and Ryan agree the pencil pushing and penny-saving is far from over.

"Taxes have gone up, rent has gone up," Mark said. "There's probably going to be another low coming. Probably lower than what we've seen this year, but there will be a sales opportunity in between time."

"We all have to work together to come through something like this," Ryan said. "Plain and simple, you can't afford to pay those high-dollar rents when commodity prices are so low."

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Both Mark and Ryan said today's Ag industry might not be booming due to the declining market, but it is bringing the men and women fighting for their families and well-being in the fields closer together.