By Shirley Sherrod

The restructuring of housing loans is thought to be a way to help millions of Americans to stay in their homes that are threatened with foreclosure. But those of us in agriculture ask, “Where is the assistance to family farmers, with both land and houses, who also need loan assistance and loan restructuring?” This has been a glaring oversight in the Congressional debate.

Like most Americans, farmers are suffering from the economic downturn. As we enter the 2009 growing season, prices for farm products continue to decrease, while the cost of producing a crop increases. To complicate matters, farmers depend on credit to operate but with stricter credit regulations, it is harder and more expensive to get loans. Because farmers are often required to list their home as security against their loan, those who fall behind in their payments face losing not just their farm operation, but their home as well.

For 41 years, from our office in South Georgia, we at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund have provided a wide range of assistance to farmers including marketing, technical assistance and alternative financing. Yet, we have never seen a time like this when our assistance alone may not be enough to keep many farmers on the land, especially small farmers and farmers of color. The current crisis is compounded by the fact that farmers in most of the south have suffered from years of drought and most do not have irrigation.