If you were assembling a dream team of experts on the ins and outs of running a farm business, look no further than RAFI-USA’s Farmer Hotline team of Benny Bunting, Craig Watts, and Tyler Whitley. Farming presents many challenges and so often, these challenges are out of a farmer’s control. Natural disasters, droughts, low yield, low prices —worldwide pandemics — all of these circumstances can seem overwhelming.
RAFI-USA’s Farmer Hotline is staffed by Benny, Craig, and Tyler Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Tyler and Craig say that the bulk of the calls coming in stem from some type of financial crisis or denial of being included in USDA programs. Other types of calls include requests for assistance with loan documents, farming programs, upstart farms, obtaining a farm number, and other assorted issues. Sometimes the team refers farmers for mental health services.
The Hotline is busiest right after a disaster, according to Tyler and Craig. “We took more than 90 calls following Hurricane Florence,” Tyler shared. The Hotline is also busy at the beginning of the farming season, as some farmers face problems obtaining operating capital. Craig agreed, “It’s definitely busy right after a disaster and volume also picks up after we send out emails — for example, announcements about RAFI-USA mini-grants, Farm Aid grants, and things like that.”
“Many of the farmers we talk with are already so heavily leveraged in debt that they have limited options,” Tyler said. “Even given this grim reality,” he continued, “there are still bright spots in the Hotline. Often, farmers call thinking they have no options — really hopeless. Sometimes we can really help them, change the situation, and get them back on a better path. Other times, we can’t ‘fix’ their situation, but we can help them make the best decision possible. It’s really rewarding being able to help turn a terrible situation into something that is manageable and the farmer feels more in control of.”
Benny Bunting has had his share of helping farmers, as he has been serving as a Farm Advocate for more than 30 years. Being the senior member of the team, Benny has earned the deep respect of his peers as well as the farmers he has counseled over the years. “As far as working with Benny — I mean, he is a wealth of information that definitely has a unique skill set, who burns to help farmers. It’s an honor to work with him,” said Craig.
“The people that I meet with are at the lowest point in their financial lives,” Benny shared in a video made when he received the prestigious Nancy Susan Reynolds Award for Personal Service. “It’s very personal. They feel out of control. We’re there to win for the farmer. And most of the time we do win,” he asserted.
While working the Hotline is certainly rewarding for the team, it can be emotionally draining. Craig shared that some of the most difficult calls are, “the ones that come through, where people tell the stories of them being at a place where they see no light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Hotline team wants farmers to know that they are not alone. “More than likely, we have worked with someone with the same or at least a similar situation. We are not here to judge – we are here to help,” concluded Craig.
Learn more about RAFI-USA’s Farmer Hotline here. The Hotline can be reached at 866-586-6746, and is staffed Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m EST.