Through no fault of their own, many of our nation’s farmers and ranchers have faced incredibly tough circumstances over the last few years. That includes Sigifredo Morales-Martinez of Grand Junction, Michigan, who is one of the more than 20,000 producers who have received critical financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that will keep them on their land. The Inflation Reduction Act provided $3.1 billion through USDA for relief to distressed borrowers along with certain Farm Service Agency direct and guaranteed loans. It will also give relief as expeditiously as possible to borrowers whose agricultural operations are at financial risk. USDA has also provided approximately $1.1 billion in immediate assistance for distressed borrowers, including those who were behind on their USDA farm loans, to help make them current.
This helped producers like Sigifredo who were at risk of losing their operations due to several unprecedented challenges, including trade disruptions, a worldwide pandemic, continued impacts on input costs and markets, and more frequent, more intense, climate-induced natural disasters.
Sigifredo has been operating a blueberry farm for 30 years where he currently manages 30 acres of blueberries. Together he and his wife have worked hard to maintain their farm while raising three daughters, Yaraici, Yailene, and Yaseen Morales. They’ve had a farm loan with FSA since 2010.
“I grew up in Mexico on a dairy farm. I want to be outside everyday working on my farm until I am physically unable to. Working hard and making things grow brings me so much joy, it is my passion. Sometimes I forget it’s work,” said Sigifredo.
In 2021, Sigifredo contracted COVID and couldn’t farm the entire year, but his family pulled together and were able to complete the harvest. Things were looking up until an infestation of stem gall wasp, a tiny insect that lays eggs inside blueberry shoots, greatly decreased their fruit production. The family was left with very little money to keep up with farm loan payments and had to discuss if they should continue with farming.
“When I had COVID I couldn’t walk my fields, mix chemicals, or even drive the tractor,” Sigifredo said. “My brother was my neighbor and he died from COVID. I was devastated and afraid for my family. They depended upon me to work this land and provide for them. My brave daughters and wife stepped up and learned how to use our equipment. I taught them as much as I could while I was sick. We were able to harvest enough to make it.”
Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, Sigifredo’s farm loan balance was brought up to date, putting him and his family ahead financially. He and his wife are working to put his daughters through college. All three daughters are in training to take over the business when Sigifredo retires. They want to keep their father’s dreams alive for a long time. Their plan for the future is to pull out the old blueberry bushes and replant.
“I was able to keep my daughters in college. Their future is everything to my wife and I,” Sigifredo said. “I am working to buy all my daughters their own farms as well as take over mine. It makes me so happy to mentor them and work alongside them.”
On August 16, 2022, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law. Section 22006 of the Inflation Reduction Act provided $3.1 billion for USDA to provide relief for distressed borrowers with certain FSA direct and guaranteed loans and to expedite assistance for those whose agricultural operations are at financial risk. The Inflation Reduction Act has provided an opportunity for USDA to both address the immediate needs of distressed borrowers and design a better path and process for distressed borrowers. Learn more about IRA assistance for distressed borrowers.
For more information on this story, contact Aimee Buckley, outreach coordinator for the Farm Service Agency in Michigan.