As the new year 2014 gets off and running predictions of what will happen over the next 52 weeks are well publicized in magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the social media. The prognosticators range from experts with PhD's and years of experience to the "talking heads" that fill time on radio sports talk shows and anyone with access to a computer.
I sort of fit that description of having "years of experience'' so here goes — my look at what 2014 might or might not bring to agriculture.
There will be a farm bill of some sort early in the year. Our national legislators are probably sick and tired of listening to farm and food stamp lobbyists pleading their case(s). The already two-year-old process means that everything that can be said has been said and legislators will now try to figure out what will hurt their re-election chances the least.
My guess: Few major changes in the dairy (and other ag) sections impacting Wisconsin farmers. A dairy program initiated by two Ohio State ag economists: Cameron Thraen, an associate professor and John Newton, a doctoral student seems to hold some hope. They suggest a continuation of the MILC dairy program combined with an income over feed cost insurance.
"This program would increase eligibility of MILC to 4 million pounds per year and allow farms an option to choose annually between MILC participation or a stand-alone margin insurance program as their elected safety net," they say. "All dairy farms regardless of size could be protected equally at a cost to the U.S. government that is substantially less than the current proposals."
In any case, supply management seems to be near dead. The major milk producers (mega dairies) who produce most of the nation's milk are also entrepreneurs and by nature do not want to be limited in their goals, including producing to a quota.
Meanwhile the food stamp program will take a minor cut in exchange for some concessions.
Locally grown, natural, organic and non-GMO have become popular terms in recent years especially among consumers with relatively high food budgets. The concept that food is better if it is raised close to where one lives has spread through the media and thus among many eaters.
Add in photos of cows grazing in a green pasture, with a red barn in the background, and you have a vision of the good old days when all food was pure and perfect and of course before "corporate farms" came on the scene.
Having lived during a portion of those good old days, I can speak with some authority about how we welcomed those oranges from Florida, strawberries and blueberries (from California) all winter, smoked ham from Virginia and Idaho potatoes.
The fact that most people want to buy red, ripe tomatoes 365 days a year, is also the reason that varieties were bred to withstand a two thousand mile trip and still be edible, although possibly tasteless, many days later when the consumer eats it.
Nor do I especially buy products labeled as "natural" although the term appeals to many. What does natural mean? I'm not sure but I do know that plants must be fertilized either by commercial fertilizer or old fashioned manure, both that provide the nutrients needed to grow. .
I'm a big fan of locally grown products from apples to zucchini, not because they are raised under more pure, safer, or more humane conditions rather, because they are part of the local economy that is supported by local entrepreneurs who provide jobs and opportunity for others.
The 1800s farm house and old dairy barn located on a rural road between Arena and Mazomanie is an example of a vacant dairy farm that has become a "destination." Bobby and Joy Hinds, Madison bought the historic Sawle farm some years ago with the goal of having a rural retreat.
The old farmhouse was remodeled by friend Dan Viste, hydrogeologist engineer and owner (with his wife Nancy) of the 1857 Mazomanie Feed Mill that they earlier remodeled and run as "The Old Feed Mill," long a popular supper club.
The long defunct fountain on the farmhouse lawn was restored and with the big lawn and numerous old trees made for a truly perfect scene that was found by soon-to-be-married couples and used as their wedding site.
This summer the old dairy barn was remodeled and serves as a location for small wedding receptions.
Combine the farmhouse which can be rented, the huge lawn, dairy barn and The Old Feed Mill for meals and you have a perfect site for a rural wedding as the year ahead bookings show.
It's apparent that people have a love for farms and the rural past in terms of food and events associated with rural life and will only grow in the New Year.
Hardly a week goes by that you don't read about China, Japan or another far away country announcing plans to purchase American food, grain and even alfalfa hay. Wisconsin businesses and farmers are certainly benefiting from those purchases.
China is hungry for our grain and dairy products as their people seek better and wider varieties of food. Their people have money from the products they make that Americans buy and are eager to live like the Americans they see on TV.
Forecasters say this as a trend that will continue for years to come and makes for an economic plus for Wisconsin's dairy and grain producers. Motels, restaurants and stores also benefit from the business of the many potential foreign buyers that come to look at our products.
Wisconsin dairying should prosper in coming years as California's big dairy industry faces many serious challenges. First and foremost is the a lack of locally grown grain to feed the cows making for an unsustainable dairy economy according to some economists. The lack of rainfall further impacts the state's water shortage and a rapid transit train planned for the San Joaquin v alley will divide many dairies.
World Dairy Expo planning and finances have been completed and by next October the current dozen or so barns and tents will be replaced by two new barns/multi-use pavilions. The object is a potentially bigger and better Dairy Expo and other possible shows and events — some which could connect with agriculture.
One of the growing agriculture industries is that of goat dairying to fill the need for goat milk to make the cheese for the nations biggest goat cheese maker: MontChevre at Belmont.
My thought: Wisconsin agriculture should have a great 2014, but as always it depends on the weather.
John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.