"What a ride!"
That's how Paul Olson, a Wisconsin farmer from Taylor who is also national president of National Farmers Organization, described the 2012 growing season.
He addressed delegates at the NFO's annual convention in Manitowoc Saturday (Dec. 1).
Reviewing the events of the past year, he said it wasn't only the weather, but also all the political issues and elections that turned 2012 into a wild rollercoaster ride.
When it comes to NFO business, however, he said it was a positive year, especially in the grain department, closing out the month of October well ahead of budget.
Olson said there are also many new young farmers becoming enthusiastic about working together in a new way and NFO marketing programs have moved into areas where the organization has never been before.
"There are places in the country where we haven't been in 30 years," he said. "A large livestock producer in Florida asked us to come down there to talk about helping him market his cattle. We've had requests from livestock producers in Georgia and Florida to help them market their milk in an area where there is little competition and producers do not have clout."
Olson said in New England there are new dairy shippers - including large farms - joining together to market their milk and other commodities. He said these farms are both organic and conventional.
The national president said picking up new shippers in the Midwest is tougher because of what he calls "conflict of interest."
He notes large processors that purchase milk are looking out more for their bottom line and answering to their shareholders than they are for the producers.
But Olson predicts there will be major shakeups among these large companies in the future as the U.S. Department of Justice continues intense investigations of monopolies and consolidations in the dairy industry.
"I predict some pretty prominent players will be found guilty of some serious things," Olson said.
"We're not about monopolizing markets," he said of the NFO. "We're about getting farmers a fair price."
The Wisconsin president said it is the only way farm families can pay off debt and pass the family farm to the next generation.
He adds, "Some people in this country would just as soon most of you were gone."
He said there are some who believe if they build 50,000-cow dairies they will be able to control the price at the expense of the smaller farmers.
Olson promised, "I will be a thorn in the side to prevent the dairy industry from going down the same path the hog and broiler industry has followed. I think consumers will be on our side, too."
He clarified that he is not saying that the 50,000-cow dairy doesn't produce a quality product. They do. But he said removing the human factor from food production is not the answer.
Consumers want to know where their food comes from and they want to know it is being produced by families who care. He said an indication of that is the increasing popularity of farmers markets and direct marketing.
"If we remove the human resources from farming, what's left of our farming communities?" he asked.
He illustrated that point in his community of Taylor in Jackson County where farming has been replaced with a federal prison and frac mining and that neither of these things has done anything to help the community.
Olson enthusiastically told the members, "Now is not the time to look back, step back or step aside. We want to preserve our type of agriculture the way it was meant to be. I say it's time to step up."
While the organization continues to grow he said it is not at the rate he would like to see.
"I hear from farmers who are not happy with the place they are shipping their product and how they are being treated. I believe we will never find solutions to all our problems in Washington DC or in Madison. There are things we need to do to help ourselves," Olson said. "I know I am preaching to the choir, though, because you have chosen to be a part of the solution."
He said it is not only in dairy but in the grain industry, too,
"The buy side of grain trade can be extremely ruthless and they got to be the powerful business they are at the expense of the American farmer," Olson stated.
The Taylor farmer used the example of large grain handlers advising grain producers this year to sell their contract early in the growing season because in the drought they would not have enough grain to fill it.
Producers listened and later the price went up and the large grain companies gained 50 or 60 cents a bushel, and sometimes more, as a result.
He reminds the producers that these companies and speculators in the markets are interested in making money for themselves and not in getting the best price for the producers.
Olson points out that National Farmers defines itself by its sophisticated commodity marketing and ag risk management programs and services and that those programs are aimed at protecting the producers.
Through the programs, farmers pool their commodities and NFO negotiators assure transactions with major buyers include terms favorable to farmers.
NFO ag risk management programs include forward contracting, hedging and an array of futures and options offerings.
Members of the 50-year-old organization represent a cross section of both conventional and organic production - grain growers, cattle and hog producers and dairymen and women.
As national president, Olson invited members to come to the national convention January 29-31 in Kansas City. The convention is coordinated with the Association of Equipment Manufactures' AG Connect Expo.
"We made the decision to co-locate our annual meeting with AG CONNECT Expo 2013 for the first time, and we look forward to building business relationships with national and international commodity buyers with expertise in milk, wheat, corn, soybeans, hog and cattle sales," Olson said.
He concluded, "The Expo will provide our members with one-on-one access to product developers and new technologies that will help them improve quality and yield."