Brad Pfaff, U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Wisconsin Farm Service Agency executive director, spoke with attendees at the National Farmers organization state convention on Saturday (Dec. 1).
He outlined the various challenges and programs his department administers.
Pfaff said, "These are challenging times in agriculture. The job of the FSA is to implement the farm bill even if we don't know what that will be."
He added, "This agency is here to help. We're not here to get in the way."
Pfaff mentioned the continuing problems with drought that has affected 51 counties in the state and has not yet ended.
He noted that the maple syrup and fruit production industry has been especially hard hit.
As for other crops, he points out that compared with the 1988 drought year, there were some advantages for growers this year due to improved seed genetics that helped crops do better despite lack of moisture and increased crop-insurance coverage among producers.
The USDA crop report estimated the nation's corn crop to be down 13 percent from 2011. Illinois and Indiana farmers were hit the hardest, averaging below 100 bushels per acre.
Soybeans were also down from last year.
While crop insurance helped some farmers, in many cases it was not adequate to cover the cost of production or yields were just at a level that prevented a pay-out but still below what producers hoped for.
Much of the discussion with Pfaff was centered around the proposed Farm Bill. He said Congress is working on a long-term budget and the farm bill will eventually fall within this conversation.
He pointed out that the Senate had passed a bill and the House Ag Committee passed a bill but it was never brought to the floor for a vote.
Some NFO members suggested that welfare programs such as food stamps should be separate budget areas and not thrown into the farm bill.
Pfaff said he personally has no opinion on whether that should happen or not but he did point out that very few representatives in the House have an agriculture background and without it included in the farm bill, it may be difficult in getting a bill passed.
NFO member Bob Oechsner said he feels food stamps should remain in the farm bill and that the nutritional aspects of the bill are part of a food security issue. He said he believes it is important that farmers as humanitarians see to it that there are not hungry people in the country.
Crop insurance was also a concern among members.
Rock County member Bob Wildermuth wanted to know what farmers are paying for crop insurance compared with what the government is contributing.
Pfaff said crop insurance is now playing a big role but he said that portion of it is not handled by FSA but by FSA's sister organization, Risk Management.
He mentioned that this year, 69 percent of corn acres were covered by crop insurance and the number of soybean acres was about the same, a much greater percentage than in previous years and that has helped some farmers.
He said only 19 percent of the alfalfa acres, however, were insured and that was disturbing because in the dairy state, forage is a major crop.
NFO president Don Hamm responded by describing his experiences with alfalfa insurance and said he believes others have had similar experiences so producers have lost interest in spending the money to insure this crop.
He said a few years ago his new seeding failed due to weather. His crop was insured but the adjuster told him to wait until the next spring and then he would come to assess the loss.
Hamm said he lost two windows of opportunity to get the seeding re-established that year as a result. He believes he would have had success had he re-seeded in August of the same year as the loss.
Hamm shares, "It's just not a good product. I read in the paper this year that all farmers had crop insurance so they will be fine despite the drought. That's not so because there are a lot of alfalfa acres that were either not insured or the insurance didn't provide what the producers need."
He said it's a struggle to get good insurance coverage for alfalfa but it is something that is badly needed.