The Potluck

Minnesota considers fund to help farmers when grain buyers, storage companies go bankrupt

By: - April 19, 2023 11:07 am

A grain elevator in western Iowa. Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Minnesota is currently contemplating the establishment of a fund to provide payments to farmers when the companies that buy or store their grain go bankrupt. Minnesota would seed the money — at least in part — with state money. The fund would operate between $9 million and $15 million and in later years would be subsidized by a 0.2% fee on grain sales if necessary.

“We’ve heard from farmers and our grain advisory group that an indemnity fund is a necessity,” said Allen Sommerfeld, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. “It’s the best way to provide farmers a legitimate safety net when these failures happen, and the unfortunate reality is that we know they will happen in the future.”

That’s the approach in Iowa, where the Grain Indemnity Fund has provided payouts to farmers since the 1980s if grain dealers or warehouses have failed to make good on their agreements with farmers. The fund pays 90% of their losses up to $300,000.

Midwestern states have tackled the issue of grain buyer and warehouse bankruptcies by establishing a fund, or by requiring companies to have insurance in the form of bonds to compensate farmers for their losses.

Minnesota has until now relied on bonding requirements for grain dealers and warehouses, which have fallen well short of making farmers whole when bankruptcies happen. In the past eight years, payouts from those bonds have covered between 8% and 17% of losses for farmers in regard to failed grain buyers, Sommerfeld said.

“The bond disbursement process is also very lengthy due to the amount of litigation that surrounds many grain facility closures, and claimants have waited years to receive payouts,” he said. “That’s unacceptable when a family’s livelihood is at stake. We can’t have more stories about family farms being wiped out like we’ve had over the last ten years or so.”

Several other states have indemnity funds to cover grain losses, including Illinois, Indiana and North Dakota. Illinois’ fund covers up to $1 million of loss per farmer and went broke in 2001, when it paid out about $32 million. That required a $4 million loan from the state to cover its payouts. It is funded through grain company licenses, grain storage capacity assessments, recoveries from licensee failures and interest, said Krista Lisser, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Indiana’s fund keeps between $20 million and $25 million and is funded with a 0.2% tax on sales to licensed grain buyers. That fee was collected between 1996 and 1998 and between 2015 and 2017. Farmers can opt out of the program and get their money back.

South Dakota has no similar fund but has increased oversight of its grain buyers. The state requires those buyers to submit quarterly financial statements.

“An indemnity fund is one tool to pay farmers, with costs borne on the front end when people pay into the fund,” said Leah Mohr, deputy executive director of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission. “South Dakota has chosen to utilize other tools to protect our producers, with some of those tools unique to this state. We have seen success here.”

Like Minnesota Reformer, Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: [email protected]. Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Iowa Capital Dispatch senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.