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COLUMBUS

'People halfway around the world in the middle of war zones are concerned about agriculture and food,' said Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture Ben Brancel.

Speaking at the crop insurance information meeting sponsored by Badgerland Financial at Columbus on Wednesday, Brancel described the current situation in Syria and said ISIS is over-running an area in northern Syria because they want the wheat elevators, farms and mills. Farmers and operators of the farmers' coops are worried because the most important thing in their country is agriculture and their ability to raise and market food.

'When we hear about ISIS in Syria concerned about controlling a town, it's because they want the wheat mills and the wheat,' he said. 'They can buy friendship through the delivery of food or punish people by withholding it.'

Noting that Americans too often take the food supply for granted, Brancel pointed out that in other parts of the world, the control over the food supply is everything.

'When we acquire wealth, we buy a better cellphone or a bigger TV screen. In most of the world, when they get wealth, they go to the grocery store,' he said. 'Others in the world are using their new wealth to buy better food, more variety of food and more protein.'

The desire for protein in the world marketplace is the economics of the future in agriculture, he added. For farmers making plans for how they will manage their farming business, he said that means thinking about not only what to grow but also how they will market what they grow.

'You will need risk management tools,' Brancel said, 'and you will need to learn how to use them to provide a little stability in an unstable market.

'You will also need good science and genetics.'

Brancel is doing this on his own farm, using genetics to improve the beef cattle in order to provide an animal the market will want in a couple of years.

He said it will be more important than ever to utilize nutrient management plans. The majority of farms already have nutrient management plans in place, but many of them are allowing salesmen to alter those plans. He cautioned the growers to remember that it isn't only yield that is important. Profitability is what is needed for a farm to survive in challenging times.

Brancel also pointed out that weather, marketing and economics will always be a challenge.

'Your economics in the future will vary by what you are willing to invest in technology and what you are willing to use,' he said.

He said that market prices are influenced by things that happen across the world and by how food companies market their products.

When companies focus on a marketing plan that is centered on how the food is produced, it is even more important to communicate with nonfarmers about agriculture.

'If you don't do it,' Brancel said, 'Dr. Google will take care of it. How you produce your food is in the long run important because of what the consumer of the future wants.'

He pointed out that right now, there is plenty of food available in the U.S., and consumers take it for granted. But he said that ebbs and flows.

'If you think today's surplus is here to stay, you are mistaken,' Brancel said. 'You need to plan for the future and look at what will be in demand in the future.'

He further pointed out that the supply of food is dependent on accessibility to food, including the transportation system and railroads.

As for prices, they are all over the board, Brancel said, and weather extremes, world unrest and consumer trends lead to instability.

As for exports, only Texas is ahead of Wisconsin in the export of ethanol and ethanol by-products. Wisconsin is also a leader in dairy and the fur and skin exports.

Touching on the dairy industry, Brancel said the goal of the DATCP's programs that work with dairy farmers is to help make the farms profitable and it is not necessarily to get Wisconsin farmers to produce more milk.

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