Farmers Offered Band Aids, Not Solutions!

Wisconsin legislators are introducing three bills this fall that will help struggling farmers. The bills take direct aim at a number of financial stumbling blocks that farmers face and are well warranted. But while helping, they are simply treating the symptoms and not curing the disease.

Let’s look at the bills:

Taxpayers would help farmers pay off their student loans, transfer their operations from one generation to another and create incentives to start small farms under a package of bills announced Tuesday.

The legislation is aimed at giving Wisconsin’s farming industry a boost at a time when bankruptcies are decimating its ranks — especially among dairy producers.

“We think they will help farmers transition into the future,” Rep. Dave Considine, D-Baraboo, told reporters Tuesday. “The three bills strengthen opportunities for Wisconsin farmers at every stage of their careers.”

Under one bill, $224,000 would pay for two new employees within the University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Profitability in Madison to help farmers with financial decisions related to the transfer of their operations to a new generation or new owners. 

Another bill would set aside $250,000 annually for the state agriculture agency, which would provide up to $50,000 for producers who want to start a new operation on no more than 50 acres. The grants also would be awarded to producers who want to add a new product to their existing operation or want to pay down their debt after adding a new product. 

Beginning farmers still paying off student loans would receive up to $30,000 over five years from the state to go toward the debt under a third bill. By 2024, the state would set aside $600,000 annually for the program under the legislation. 

All three of these bills will be genuinely helpful. We all know that student debt for nearly everyone attending college or even tech schools is a burden. With the value of real estate and cost of other farming assets, transfer of ownership within a farming family certainly is daunting. And just like other startups, startup farmers can certainly use help.

But the biggest stumbling block for smaller farms and family farms is being left untouched. And that’s the extremely low price being paid for fluid milk. And that results from over production of milk across the nation and particularly in Wisconsin.

It is unlikely that demand for milk will increase anytime in the near future so reducing the number of milk producers is necessary. And given the other environmental issues around Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations here in Wisconsin…I suggest the next thing the legislature takes up is reducing the size and number of CAFOs.

Now that seems like governmental intrusion into the free market…and it is. Except that agriculture (and dairy farming in particular) is already highly regulated. And to protect the family farm and the air and water quality in the state for the rest of us…let’s go for it. Reduce the number of large producers until we get the production of milk down to where the market is.

Let prices move upward as supply decreases…let small farmers make money on milk production after years of struggling. And then those first three proposals above will have a serious chance of helping Wisconsin farmers survive.

Wisconsin Farmers Aren’t Over the Hump

Of course most of Wisconsin already knows that but during his visit to Milwaukee in one of his now ‘patented’ rallies, President Donald Trump exclaimed that they were!

President Donald Trump raised $3 million in Wisconsin cash on Friday touring Milwaukee to promote a new trade deal he says will help rebuild the country’s wounded manufacturing and agriculture industry.   
But in doing so, the president downplayed the suffocation felt by Wisconsin dairy farmers because of Trump’s own tariffs.

“These are great American patriots … the farmers (said) no, it’s not like things are perfect but we’re with our president,” Trump told a crowd at Derco Aerospace on Milwaukee’s northwest side. “Some of the farmers are doing well … We’re over the hump. We’re doing really well.” 

Trump said the new trade agreement would help Wisconsin dairy farmers by providing access to Canada’s market, painting an optimistic picture of the future of the Wisconsin industry — which is losing two dairy farms a day.  

Nearly 700 Wisconsin farms were shut down last year by owners used to enduring a brutal workload and hard times, calling it quits in a downturn now headed into its fifth year. In 2018, for the third straight year, Wisconsin led the nation in farm bankruptcies. 

Well the immediate response in the original article told a different story:

“If he’s saying farmers are over the hump, he would be badly mistaken,” said Darin Von Ruden, a third generation dairy farmer from Westby and president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union. “In order to get over the hump we need to stop losing dairy farms.”

And Von Ruden isn’t convinced the trade deal Trump promoted Friday would come close to providing the kind of market dairy farmers need to address the overproduction of milk facing his industry, keeping prices low.

So it seems that the president is going to continue on his merry way while farmers suffer. But we aren’t quite at a standstill…the state has Wisconsin Dairy Task Force 2.0 and their recommendations for solving some of the issues facing Wisconsin farmers. But we wouldn’t need that if the president’s policies weren’t so aggressively harmful.

An increased focus on exports, funds to repair rural roads and even a mobile app for farmers are among the suggestions made by a group tasked with finding ways to bolster Wisconsin’s embattled dairy industry.

The group, known as the Wisconsin Dairy Task Force 2.0, approved a final report that lays out 51 recommendations to help a state dairy industry that has stumbled in recent years amidst an extended downturn in the price of milk.
The task force was created in June 2018 as a joint effort between the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the University of Wisconsin System.

The task force’s 51-page report outlines how the price of milk has become increasingly volatile over the last few decades, making it difficult for dairy farmers to pay their bills and plan for their farm’s future.

… the group focused on long-term issues, hoping to assure the state’s dairy industry is thriving in the coming decades.

The task force’s recommendations include creating “Dairy Innovation Hub” at the University of Wisconsin to help drive research that could support the dairy industry’s modernization and growth in the future.

The major points in the report…includes improved export opportunities…something turned upside down by the Trump tariffs. This stuff seems pretty straight forward. Hopefully the just passed state budget will help with some of these:

Recognize the importance of exports: The report urges Wisconsin to develop a plan to help cheesemakers produce new products targeted specifically for export markets. The U.S. only exports about 5 percent of the cheese produced here, which makes exports a “huge, virtually untapped growth opportunity for our cheese industry,” the report says.

Encourage young people to pursue careers in agriculture: The agriculture industry accounts for about 500,000 jobs in Wisconsin, but “rural communities struggle to retain our youth in an industry that requires high levels of science, technology and skills,” the report says. The solution could be to offer model programs for communities, businesses and education systems that develop career paths in agriculture. “The goal is to show that local industries, agriculture companies, manufacturers and farms offer highly skilled and technical careers right in their local communities,” the report says.

Funding for local road improvement and maintenance: The report recommends the state set aside a percentage of the transportation budget to support roads in rural communities. Any farms large enough to generate a lot of heavy vehicle traffic could partner with towns to help build roads, the report says.

Study the impact of dairy and agriculture on local communities: The dairy industry supports one of every 10 jobs in Wisconsin, while the average cow in the state generates about $34,000 of economic activity every year, the report says. Additional funding should be set aside for the University of Wisconsin to study existing or proposed dairy and agricultural infrastructure to help local and regional planners better identify opportunities in their areas.

The dairy app: A mobile app would help dairy farmers quickly access important information that could help them answer questions about the industry. “Then if a producer knew that someone wanted to ask about a particular subject, thoughtful talking points could be accessed quickly,” the report says.

Today’s paper had a human interest story on how modern farms keep their herds comfortable in this hot and humid weather. But there were a few things that stuck out that illustrate the revenue $$ problems that cause issues for our farmers.

” No matter how hard we try to keep animals cool, we do experience production and efficiency loss in the heat,” Carpenter ( third-generation dairy farmer Cody Carpenter of Redrock View Farms) said. “Especially when the temperatures don’t cool at night, we may lose up to 10 pounds of milk production per cow per day.”

That’s sobering news for the family-owned dairy farm, which supports eight full-time employees and the rest of the Carpenters.

Currently, the market price for milk is between $17 and $17.50 per 100 pounds of milk. While every farm is different, most farms need to make $17 to $18 per 100 pounds to break even.

emphasis mine

So right now…the current price for milk is essentially at the break even point for most farms…break even point. How many more farms do we have to lose before we actually take some action?

Now on a little side conversation. The Redrock View Farms has a herd of 600 cattle. To me that is huge. But there are much larger farms in Wisconsin. We have overproduction as stated in almost every article about Wisconsin farming. We have dozens of huge factory farms. And they are a huge drain on local natural resources…particularly water. Even ignoring the reported issues about farm runoff polluting local wells and local streams…look at this number:

Cows can drink upwards of 50 gallons of water a day, so making sure the animals have continual access to clean water is a must. 

That’s 30,000 gallons of water a day coming out of the aquifer for this ‘smaller’ farm…how long can we sustain factory farming in this state price wise and resource wise?

The Republican legacy: the decimation of America’s Dairyland

Thanks to the policies of Republican president Donald Trump and those Republicans who’ve been too scared to stand up to him Wisconsin’s dairy farms are in crisis. A new report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes Wisconsin’s dairy farms are being absolutely decimated, having lost almost 700 dairy farms in 2018, a rate of nearly two a day.

Here’s more about one of the primary causes for the dairy farm crisis in America’s Dairyland (emphasis added).

At the same time, foreign markets for American dairy products have shrunk in response to tariffs that President Donald Trump placed on foreign steel and aluminum. Cheese shipments to China have fallen almost 65 percent, according to industry figures, and exports to Mexico are down more than 10 percent.

Mexico and Canada have targeted rural America as a way to punish Trump, and the economic harm could be felt for years to come, said Laurie Fischer, CEO of the American Dairy Coalition.

“This should have changed in November when Trump declared success with his newly rechristened U.S.-Canada-Mexico Trade Agreement replacing NAFTA,” Fischer said.

“In retrospect, it was a disingenuous statement: The administration has not lifted steel and aluminum tariffs on Mexican and Canadian products, and in response, those countries are refusing to (ratify) the pact or lift retaliatory tariffs, impacting dairy products and other items.”

Wisconsin farmers are getting about $10 million in payments from Trump’s farm bailout program announced late last year. It was designed to help producers of milk, pork, soybeans, corn and other commodities who have seen prices tumble in trade battles.

A 55-cow dairy farm would receive a one-time payment of $725 from the bailout but stood to lose between $36,000 and $48,000 in income last year from low milk prices, according to the Wisconsin Farmers Union. A 290-cow dairy would get $4,905 but would lose several hundred thousand dollars.

If Donald Trump and his Republican enablers don’t take this problem seriously Wisconsin’s dairy industry may well collapse – and along with that collapse we could see serious damage to our state’s economy, given how important the dairy industry is to the state’s economy – not to mention the damage such a collapse would do to our collective psyche given how fond so many of us are for living in America’s Dairyland.