Ag Policy Conference draws crowd
Supply management programs, funding assistance for crop insurance and risk management programs and labor issues were on the minds of about 100 people attending the Agricultural Policy Conference in Kimberly, Monday, Feb. 20.
Dozens of agriculture stakeholders got to tell their stories and speak their minds to Congressmen Reid Ribble and Tom Petri, hosts of the day-long forum.
Regarding the federal government’s attempt to limit jobs youth can do on a farm, in the interest of safety, attendees all agreed these restrictions would do more harm than good.
Several FFA students from Oconto Falls and their instructor Bret Iverson weighed in on the issue. Iverson said, “I teach tractor safety. If this goes through I couldn’t teach it and I believe it’s important for everyone.”
Pete Kappleman, a Two Rivers dairy producer and chairman of the board for Land O’Lakes, said, “I want safe working conditions for everyone on our farm. I employ eight students through the school-to-work program. If these rules go through, I couldn’t do that.”
Others commented that they work along side their children, teaching them about safety with every job. They pointed out that under the proposed rules, FFA and 4-H members could not participate in many of their project activities.
Kevin Kiehnau, a third generation organic farmer, said, “If you want responsible adults in this country, give children responsibilities.”
Rep Ribble, who sits on the House Agriculture committee, commented, “Many of the things farms are facing are the same things I’m hearing from other industries.”
He commended farm families for instilling a work ethic in their children and said businesses throughout the country face challenges finding employees with a willingness to work.
Regarding farm commodity payments there were varied opinions on whether there should be limits on the dollars a farm can receive and on whether the dairy portion of the Farm Bill should include a plan for supply management.
Most agreed it is important to maintain a risk management program and federally subsidized crop insurance as a critical part of a farmer’s safety net.
Sam Miller, agricultural banker with BMO Harris Bank, said “Bankers want to know what the rules are. Crop insurance and risk management are important.”
Others called for developing a way to take the volatility out of commodity, especially milk pricing. Farmers are looking for sustainability through a price protection system and expanded trade programs.
State Rep. Gary Tauchen, who is also a dairy producer, said the U.S. needs to be able to take advantage of the increased demand for food in the world. He said Wisconsin, with its diversity of agricultural products and with 92 percent of its milk going into cheese, is poised to capture a good share of that market.
CONSERVATION A CONCERN
Attendees were also very passionate about agricultural conservation and said conservation requirements should be tied in with any type of government payments.
Rep Petri commented, “A farm program needs to allow for the diversity we have here in Wisconsin. We have a very diverse agriculture and terrain and we need to continue to be concerned about conservation.”
Worries about protecting the agricultural industry as a means of maintaining healthy rural communities and continued funding for agricultural research were also expressed.
Several attendees pointed out that what was being discussed is, in reality, a “food bill” rather than a “farm bill.”
Tauchen pointed out that 72-76 percent of the budget for the Farm Bill is for nutrition and food stamp programs.
Kiehnau, who represented Organic Valley Family of Farms on the panel discussion, told the Congressional representatives, “All of you talk about wanting cheap food in this country. You should not be proud of that. We need an adequate food supply, yes, but cheap food, no.”