Tennessee farms struggling to stay afloat

Posted at 5:07 PM, Dec 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-11 20:39:14-05

Ron Ward is running his family's farm in Paris, Tennessee on borrowed time and borrowed money and both are about to run out.

This sprawling 20 acres was first purchased by Ron's grandfather more than 70 years ago. Like Ron, the land here itself looks warn down, farming hundreds of cattle here for seven decades has taken a serious toll on both. But Ron, still can't see himself doing anything else.

"I was born here. I wanted to leave but then I came back. This is home," he said as he walked slowly through a pasture of mostly brown dead grass that's given in to winter's early arrival.

The last four years for this beef cattle operation have been far from easy but it's the last year in particular that's left Ron wondering how much longer he can keep his family's farm from going under. Typically, there are nearly 150 head of cattle roaming these rolling hillsides, on a recent Tuesday morning though there were only about 20.

Ron first started noticing something was wrong early this year when each morning he'd wake up and find two or three cows had suddenly and inexplicably died overnight. 

A veterinarian eventually determined it was pneumonia that had killed the herd. 

"Some were laying down and dying before we could vaccinate them. That's how quickly we were losing them," he recalled.

In total, Ron estimates he lost about 47 head of cattle. The Blakemore farm took nearly a $71,000 hit because of the cows sudden death and Ron can't afford to replenish his herd. He was barely making even as it was.

"It's very depressing and you have to remember that this is all on borrowed money," Ron says about the loans farmers typically take out to make it from year to year.

Across Tennessee it's been a difficult year for farmers. Corn and soy beans prices have been unpredictable in large part because of tariffs being imposed on the U.S. out of retaliation for tariffs the Trump administration imposed on China. Simple supply and demand is also at play, there's just so much supply right now that farmers are barely making any money on what they produce when it's time to sell. 

Since 2017 Tennessee has also lost an estimated 30 dairy farms. Most, have been in families for generations.

Ron, is doing his best to keep from selling his family's farm but the outlook isn't good. 

"It's just by the grace of God that we made it this far. Only the Grace of God."

Friends have setup a GoFundMe to help the family as they try to keep from selling.