Al Reis, left, a Lomira hog farmer and owner of a meat processing plant in Kewaskum, Pete Kappelman, a Two Rivers dairy producer and chair of the board of Land O’Lakes, and Bill Bruins, a Waupun dairyman and president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, weighed in on how regulations affect the success of the Wisconsin agriculture industry during an Agricultural Policy Conference in Kimberly Monday, Feb. 20. Photo By Gloria Hafemeister
Farmers weigh in on regulatory climate in agriculture
How many regulations can a farm have and still stay in business?
About 100 attendees at the recent Ag Policy listening session in Kimberly, sponsored by Congressmen Reid Ribble and Tom Petri, shared their views on the regulatory climate in the U.S. and how it affects profitability on farms.
Bill Bruins, president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, pointed out that farmers do everything to make sure their animals are healthy and comfortable but he said there is a segment of society that also looks at how socially happy these animals are.
He warned, "Whenever we allow a segment of society to dictate how things should be done without their intimate knowledge of how that segment actually works, that's a dangerous way to operate."
He adds, "Government always wants to help and that comes along with regulations."
Bruins points to regulations regarding roads, labor, safety, food safety and natural resources but suggests, "We have a tendency to preserve resources for birds and wildlife without regard for how it impacts agriculture."
AND ANIMAL WELFARE
Pete Kappelman, a Two Rivers dairyman who also chairs the Land O'Lakes board, said, "Food production must increase to feed a growing world population and the U.S. leads the way because we give the customer what they want - safe food."
He says regulations come with a high price tag, stating that government regulations cost taxpayers $1.75 trillion a year with 40 new or proposed regulations affecting agriculture introduced each year.
He said the Environmental Protection Agency is the "worst offender" when it comes to cost.
Kappelman called for a "moratorium" on any new regulations.
Labor issues, according to Kappelman, continue to present challenges to producers who he says rely on immigrant labor or students because others are not willing to do the type of jobs available on farms. He points out it has nothing to do with pay.
Lomira hog producer Alan Reis talked about regulations regarding antibiotic use and he says pork producers now house their animals in a controlled environment in order to provide a healthier atmosphere that reduces the need for medications.
Other agencies, however, attempt to prevent hog producers from confining their animals.
About the EPA rules regarding dust, air quality and water, he says, "Agriculture is not given credit for all the erosion control and environmental protection they have been doing in the last 20 years."
Regarding Department of Labor proposals that would limit what jobs youth can do on a farm, Reis says, "We need to get young people coming into our operations but if we can't get them involved in the business at a young age we may lose them to something else.
Reis added, "Of course safety is important to us but we want our children out there with us so we can teach them from little on."
In addition to farming Reis and his family operate a meat processing business in Kewaskum and West Bend.
He shared the rules have finally been approved to allow the state's 280 inspected meat processing facilities to ship products across state lines but he said the implementation is slow.
Congressional Rep. Tom Petri commented that what started as a way to ensure safe food decades ago has become "a job program for certain federal employees."
He continued, "The regulating system is usually a little behind on what is really happening. Producers and processors have food safety programs of their own in place and the government doesn't realize it."
Of regulations in general Petri said, "The first draft of any regulation is usually way over the top. That scares people and it takes a lot of time to trim these regulations down."
Kappelman suggested, "Regulations need to be revised from time to time because methods and technology changes."
Regarding milk inspection and regulations he said the state has responded to farmers' efforts to provide quality milk by decreasing inspections for those who provide high quality product.
He points to farmers' own quality assurance programs that were designed to assure consumers of things like food safety and animal welfare. Dairy producers adopted the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management program; pork producers have adopted the "We care" program.
Noting that agricultural exports are currently carrying the U.S. and Wisconsin's economy, Kappelman suggested government address more important issues like improving ways to get products to market.
He recommends that farmers work with their local government on protecting rural roads.
One idea he thinks might help on rural roads is making the road "one way" during the few days a year when farmers are transporting large loads of feed or manure. This would allow the equipment to drive on the center of the road without breaking away the pavement on the edge.
"Improving the locks on the Mississippi River to make transporting goods more efficient would be helpful," Kappelman stated.
Bruins adds, "We spent millions of dollars over the last 10 years studying the problems with the locks. We have a saying out in the country - it's 'get 'er done.'"
Bruins also suggests improvements in rail transport to save roads and get products delivered more efficient.
Regarding agricultural exports, Rep. Petri said, "We used to be a supplier of last resort. Now we are producing what the world wants."
Kappelman responded by saying, "Government policy should be such that it directs industry to produce what the world wants."
He pointed to policies in the 1980s that encouraged cheese processors to produce cheddar cheese and store it in caves, waiting for the government to pay them for the surplus.
Bruins said, "The Dairy Security Act will be crucial if we want to keep Wisconsin agriculture growing."
He summed it up by saying, 'Government needs to make sure that regulations in this country are economically sustainable or we're dead in the water."