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How one farmer saved his operation

``I just kind of introverted,'' Dan Ruf recalls of his desperate days last year. ``I shouted out in the barn and then, when I came home, I'd sit in front of the TV and be a mummy for a while. . . . I was getting downright nutso. That's when I decided I was getting out.''

``You never knew,'' recalls Laurie Ruf of the meetings with loan officers, ``whether they were going to shut us down.''

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Late last summer, with the farm worth less than the money borrowed against it, the Rufs combed their records and found a possible way out. The Production Credit Association gave Mr. Ruf his last chance: three months to prove he could make money by fattening his own feeder pigs.

``It was the end,'' recalls loan officer Donald Hibbing of the decision. ``The only thing that changed our mind was the statistics'' of Ruf's phenomenal hog production.

The Rufs cut expenses, ground and mixed their own feed, fired the farmer they had hired to fatten the hogs and did it themselves.

On Nov. 1, Ruf reluctantly decided to test whether the hogs were gaining good weight. With Alvin Dykstra, the man who sold him the farm, he weighed a few test hogs and found, to his amazement, that they would be ready a month early. The two men -- one a farmer since 1954, the other since 1982 -- hugged each other. They had saved, for the moment at least, the farm operation.

Now, ``things couldn't be better,'' Ruf says. For 1984, he had an impressive 22 pigs marketed per sow and his operation is now profitable and worth more than the debts against it. If the market situation doesn't worsen dramatically, Ruf expects to make it.

But ``if the thing does fall through, we can walk away from this,'' he says, on his way to feeding the hogs. And if it does, ``I hope the creditors think: `At least he tried.'

``I want everybody to have a good taste in his mouth.'' -- 30 --{et

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