Failing farms impacting families across the Mid-South

Mid-South farmers are in a fight for their livelihoods.

Cotton is no longer king, soybeans are sinking and prices are down while costs are still high. FOX13 heard this was a trend, but the harsh reality we uncovered was surprising and disturbing.

Valerie Calhoun talked to farmers from Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas. They all said the same thing: the situation for family farmers hasn’t been this bad since the 1980’s.

Bill Weaver’s family has been tilling the land in Edmondson, Arkansas for more than five decades.

"The prospect for doing any better for the next two or three years don't look that good, so we decided to just quit and get out while we could,” Weaver said.

Auction houses are booked up with equipment and farm sales through the end of March.

“Back in the 80’s it was like this, (but) there are more people going down this year,” DeWitt Auction Company’s Max Herron told FOX13.

The phrase, "before we lose everything" is heard a lot. Farmers who are sticking with it for at least another year said they fear one bad crop could ruin them.

Bill Weaver’s son, Stewart, is a third generation member of the Weaver family. He too has made his living on the land.

He told FOX13 the decision to get out of farming was agonizing.

“If we happen to have a bad crop, then we’ll be in a worse position (when) looking ahead,” Stewart Weaver said.

Prices are down and production costs are up. University of Arkansas Extension Agent Russell Parker showed FOX13 the numbers.

In the last five years, crop prices have plunged nearly 50 percent. However, the cost of seeds, pesticides and fertilizer are still high.

In fact, with current prices, the numbers show it costs more to grow some crops than farmers will make in profit.

"The present price of soybeans this morning was $8.81 a bushel,” Parker said in January. “It costs about $8.86 a bushel to produce these soybeans."

FOX13 spent several hours at the Weaver’s equipment auction in late January. It was a cold, wet and thoroughly depressing day.

Turrell, Arkansas farmer Bob Driver told us how he and his family are riding out the crisis.

"We haven't bought a lot of new equipment,” Driver said. “(We) have a lot of high bank notes. That's the way we have managed to survive."

Every time a farmer turns in his plow, another piece of the Delta dies.

Workers are left with nowhere to go.

Johnny Hymans is one of eight people who worked on the Weaver Farm. When we talked to him in January, he told FOX13 he has been looking for a job since November, with no luck.

Farms and their workers are the lifeblood of small towns. When a farmer goes out of business, the town takes a direct hit.

Russell Parker says Delta towns are “shrinking.”

Take Hughes, Arkansas for example. The population is 1441

FOX13 pulled the numbers and learned Hughes lost 15 percent of its population between 2010 and 2014.

The once-mighty John Deere Dealership shut down in December.

Hughes lost its schools last year.

Even the Gus Malzahn Football field is abandoned and overgrown

This all comes after a hope-filled dedication just a year and a half ago.

"Helena would in the same position. Brinkley, just about any town that's not blessed with industry,” Parker said.

Arkansas Rice economist Jarrod Hardke told FOX13 “25 percent of Arkansas rice farmers” could “drop out of farming" this year.

In all, the most telling sign is the fact that Auction Houses are booked through March. They are selling farm equipment at huge discounts for farmers who are "retiring" or calling it quits for "health" reasons.

As of Monday, farm equipment auctions are scheduled through March 25. Because there are so many auctions, farmers are not getting the prices they want, and need, for the tractors and combines that represent their life's work.