A high-interest alternative farm lender, Ag Resource Management, is the single largest recipient of federal aid to compensate farmers for low crop prices caused by China's retaliation in the trade war with President Trump, according to an analysis by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Over the past two years, ARM has received about $75 million bailout money out of the $15.5 billion the government has spent, under terms of its loans to farmers.

More and more farmers have been obliged to take out high-interest loans from lightly regulated alternative lenders like ARM. "Under USDA rules, farmers can assign government payments they’re eligible for to third parties. If a producer has debt with ARM, it’s required," Sky Chadde and Lucille Sherman report. Chadde is the Midwest Center’s Gannett agricultural data fellow, and Sherman is a Gannett data and investigations reporter.

ARM's loan volume has grown 40 percent over the past three years. Farmers seek such loans because they're easier to get than loans from traditional banks, especially if the farmer is financially stressed. Loans of some sort are often necessary to keep many farmers out of bankruptcy; farm debt was projected to hit a record $416 billion last year, up almost 40% since 2012.

"The development of turning to riskier loans shows how desperate some farmers have gotten to stay in operation," said Glen Smith, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Farm Credit Administration, which regulates some agricultural lenders. Many farmers are having a hard time making good on loans. "This year, the share of loans with 'major' or 'severe' repayment problems hit a 20-year high, according to a survey released in August by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, which examines economies in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin," Chadde and Sherman report.