The latest blow to struggling family farms: Rising interest rates

Bob Merrill remembers that in the 1980s, grown men cried in his kitchen before handing over their farm to the bank because they couldn’t pay the interest on their loans. (Kristina Barker/For The Washington Post)

Shane Merrill lives in a small town in South Dakota that’s 1,400 miles from Wall Street, but he watches the numbers as avidly as the traders.

Merrill isn’t an investment manager. He’s a family farmer. Right now, as he drives a tractor and planter to get soybeans in the ground, he’s also checking financial news on his smartphone. He’s worried, he says, about interest rates shooting up.

To keep his farm going, he has to borrow about $1 million a year from the bank, a common scenario for family farmers. Merrill takes out a loan in the early spring to buy seeds, fertilizer and fuel and aims to pay it back, with interest, after the fall harvest.