Minnesota Farm Advocate Oral History Project: Interview with Milan Wisniewski
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Description BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Milan Wisniewski and his wife, Darlene, live on their farm near Ivanhoe, Minnesota. He was born and raised in that area. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: The farm is set up for livestock, but the FmHA (Farmers' Home Administration) thinks he should be grain farming, and he has therefore been raising grain for the last 7 years. However, due to the nature of his land (which is too rolly to be highly productive), low prices and weather problems, he has been unable to make expenses. Following the drought of 1975-76, he took out a disaster loan from FmHA. At that time, FmHA wanted him to expand into a larger livestock operation and talked him into building a finishing barn for 500 head of hogs. But, when it was built, they refused to allow him the money to build a breeding herd to go with it. In order to build up the smaller breeding herd he already had and sell the hogs necessary to keep up his payments, he was unable to fill the new finishing barn. After a few years, he had his finishing barn almost full of pigs and 120 sows. But then, FmHA wouldn't give him permission to buy feed. So he sold his pigs, paid an obligation at a local bank and turned the rest of the money from the sale over to FmHA. FmHA has refused to release security on his livestock ever since (which had apparently been designated as collateral on his loan). This has made it impossible for him to sell livestock and has shut down his livestock operation completely. Milan has no hogs, FmHA holds as collateral hogs that do not exist, and its continuing refusal to release security rules out a new herd. As a result, the finishing barn has stood empty since 1981. Also, part of Milan's land is useable only for pasture (e.g. for dairy or stock cows), but since all livestock was included as collateral under his loan, he has also been unable to make any use of that land since 1981. In 1981, Darlene called him on the phone from a meeting to say that FmHA was at the farm and he must come home. At the farm, he found the FmHA County Supervisor, Assistant Supervisor and District Director. They had been trying to get Darlene to sign a request for voluntary sale before he got home. In 1981 he raised grain on his farm and on a quarter of rented land. FmHA refused to allow him to pay rent on the other farm in 1982, and he was refused an operating loan for 1982. So he thought he was finished, and proceeded to rent out his own farm. FmHA then told him that he could not rent it unless he first put it up for sale. When he did so, FmHA rented it out and kept the rent. Milan took a job in Sioux Falls, leaving Darlene and their sons on the farm. He was soon laid off (as the least senior employee) due to a downturn in business. While in Sioux Falls, Milan heard on TV about an action by AAM (the American Agricultural Movement) on behalf of farmers. He contacted AAM and was referred to the rules, regulations and laws relavant to FmHA (in the Code of Federal Regulations). He spent the winter studying them, and in 1983 he began using what he had learned. He applied for a copy of his own file at FmHA (to which he was entitled under the Freedom of Information Act). Darlene and Milan were both at the FmHA office and, after they had at first been refused, Milan said he would not leave until he knew he would get the copy. The Supervisor then called Washington, D.C. and was told that Milan was entitled to the copy. He learned a lot by studying his file. FmHA files show (he says) how they work on you, how they have you figured out, whether they want you off your farm and (if so) how they plan to get you off. He feels that about $100,000 of funds which were turned over to FmHA are missing from (not recorded in) his file. He has requested verification of this from the State and District Directors, but has received nothing. He has applied for restructuring and is now in mediation with FmHA. It's position now is that since the loan(s) will probably be written down or rewritten, the foregoing will not matter. But, Milan says, if he could have had hogs and cows during the intervening years, he would have paid off all or most of his loan. As it is, the loan is unhandleable. Other farmers were aware of Milan's financial problems and experiences, and he began helping some of them with their own similar problems. When the Farm Advocates Program was formed, he joined (attending the first training session in March 1984). He worked as an Advocate from then until July 1986, then left the Program to become a private consultant. The reasons for this were the load was getting too heavy and he was putting his own money into Farm Advocate expenses. Anne Kanton agreed that he should go private, but asked him not to use the Advocate name. He still works as a private consultant and has more work than he can handle. Big business is getting control of the land, and this results in large farms operated by fewer people and much greater use of chemicals. This is a risk to the quality of our water supply and to the quality of the food raised on the land. Small family farms are more labor intensive and use more ecologically sound methods - such as mechanical cultivation. And good agricultural practices require a farmer on the farm who really knows his land. Farm land varies widely; each field has its own "personality". Milan thinks that the 1985 farm program itself benefits the grain companies rather than the farmer. Thus, a year or so ago, the farmer was guaranteed $3.03/ per bushel of corn. So if the market price (paid by the companies) was $1.20, the Government would make up the difference with a "deficiency payment" to the farmer. And the big grain companies are getting rich. A couple of years ago grain companies said they were making profits of 66% or 88% in one year. How long will rural America last? Jim Langmen, when he was the state president of AAM, said: "You take the farmers off the farm, and grass is going to grow on your main streets. You give the farmer some fair price and keep him on the farm, and they will rebuild your small towns.". Comparing Ivanhoe in the early 1950s and today, for example: There were 3 new car dealers, now none; there were 4 grocery stores, now 1; there were 4 hardware stores, now 1; there were 7 beer joints, now none. Laws passed recently by Congress and the Minnesota Legislature have helped the farmer. But Farm Credit has been getting farmers off their farms by convincing them to extend financially then foreclosing them. Thus, in the 1970s, Farm Credit urged people to take out loans and go into debt to buy land. There were Farm Credit newspaper and radio ads saying that land would hit $6,000/acre. Once the loans were in place and people were deeper in debt (in about 1983 or 1984), Farm Credit said people were undersecured and began foreclosing. Now the cycle is repeating. They're again saying that land has bottomed out and you'd better buy now. And people are again mortgaging free and clear land to buy more. FmHA supervisors (some at least) act as though they're above the law. One told him that he didn't care what the '88 Drought Assistance Act or the '87 Farm Credit Act said. "If I decided I don't want that farmer on the farm, he won't be there." That is wrong. FmHA is a lender of last resort set up to help farmers in times of need. Milan feels that the problems of agriculture are central to the problems of the country. His grandparents had a saying (which came out of the Depression of the 1930s): "If agriculture's in a problem, the country's in a problem." People from the cities with whom he has talked would be willing to pay more for food to keep farmers on the farm.
Quantity 1.5 hours sound cassette
30 pages transcript
Format Content Category: sound recordings
Content Category: text
Creation Interviewee: Wisniewski, Milan
Interviewer: Hunter, Dianna
Made in [vicinity] Ivanhoe, Lincoln County, Minnesota, United States
Subjects Made in [vicinity] Ivanhoe, Lincoln County, Minnesota, United States
Dates Creation: 06/13/1989
Holding Type Oral History - Interview
Identifiers OH 37
Accession Number AV1991.158.31
More Info MHS Library Catalog
Related Collections Oral History - Project, MHS Collection, project: 'Minnesota Farm Advocate Oral History Project'

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