WESTMINSTER — Most county farmers aren't making their way to bankruptcy court, butduring a recession, it helps to know the options.
"When we file for bankruptcy, it stops the world," an associate law professor from Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University said Thursday.
Bankruptcy is "a forgiveness. It allows us to go through the law and get a fresh start," said L. Leon Geyer, an associate professor ofagricultural law and economics.
Geyer, 44, spoke at the Mid-Winter Farm Meetings at the Agriculture Center on the topic "Bankruptcy and the Farmer."
David L. Greene, acting director of the county Cooperative Extension Service, said farmers should know about bankruptcy law in case they need protection or a company they deal with files for bankruptcy.
"Farmers are hurting," he said.
The extension service sponsored the annual meetings Wednesday and Thursday. About 120 farmers attended Wednesday and about 85 Thursday, Greene said. Experts spoke on a variety of farm-related topics.
Geyer, who grew up ona dairy, pork and grain farm in northern Indiana, said farmers oftenclose business deals on a handshake.
A farmer, for example, should check out the company to which he plans to sell his grain crop. When he accepts a check, he's granting the company credit, Geyer said.
"In God we trust -- all others pay cash," he quipped.
"You've got to understand who you're dealing with," Geyer said. "You are both buyers and sellers, creditors and debtors."
When farmers get into financial trouble, they often don't know what steps to take to find help. People in rural communities generally "are proud, and we have a lot of dignity," he said, adding they hesitate to consult an attorney.
"Bankruptcy is fraught with emotion," Geyer said. People must divorce their feelings from their financial situation and deal with the problems, he said.
"Bankruptcy is a legitimate tool. It's been used by some of the biggest and best in the world to solve their problems," he said.
The U.S. Bankruptcy Code provides special protection for farmers. Under Chapter 12, which was added to the code in 1986, the court helps farmers reorganize their debts and gives them up to 12years to repay the money.
In another session Thursday, extension home economist Sharon B. Grobaker spoke about "Coping with Recessionary Stress."
Everyone needs some stress in his or her life; the keyis learning to handle it, she said.
"Our lives would be so boring(without stress), we'd never get out of bed," Grobaker said.
Manypeople say most of their stress comes from daily hassles, she said. The car may break down, an overdue bill may arrive or the children may spill Kool-Aid on the new carpet. Many people allow events like these to bother them, she said.
It's important to establish personal goals and values, Grobaker said. When you know what's important, you gain control over your life, she said.
"We have to set our own standards for success," she said.
Certain events are stressful because they require people to make changes in their lives, Grobaker said. Even small changes can make people uncomfortable, she said.
Built-up stress can lead to depression, stomach problems, headaches and neck pain, among other symptoms, so it's important to deal with the pressure, she said.
Exercise, reading, sleeping, talking with a friend, praying and even crying are ways to cope, Grobaker said, adding relaxation is important, too.
"We need leisure," she said.