Ag Secretary Vilsack promotes rural infrastructure, DMC changes in Wisconsin farm visit

Samantha Hendrickson
Wisconsin State Farmer
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack walks and talks with Anna Hinchley, who runs Hinchley Farms, a dairy farm, in Cambridge, Wisc. with her parents. The secretary visited the farm to highlight changes to the Dairy Margin Coverage program.

In an effort to highlight the critical rural infrastructure and additions to the Dairy Margin Coverage program, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited Hinchley Farms in Cambridge Thursday, Dec. 16.

He sat in a chilly garage after touring the Hinchley's milking barn, and apologized for being in a suitcoat and slacks, to the amusement of many present.

However, his dress code didn't prevent him from enjoying his tour and taking numerous tough questions from press and local dairy farmers alike about protecting the dairy industry and supporting rural communities. 

“It was good to hear from Secretary Vilsack on issues ranging from DMC to trade and exports to research and rural broadband,” said Nick Levendofsky, Wisconsin Farmer's Union Government Relations Director. “Rural resilience was a key theme in Vilsack’s comments, and the investments USDA is making in agriculture and rural America will ensure continued resiliency as we weather the challenges of COVID-19, weather, and global markets.”

The Dairy Margin Coverage program, which is open for sign-up as of Dec. 13 alongside a new Supplemental Dairy Margin Coverage program, gives small to mid-size dairy farmers a financial safety net for the many expenses that pile up on dairy farms. 

Approximately $114 million is expected to pour into Wisconsin for infrastructure projects, and with the supplemental DMC, Vilsack said he estimates an additional $20 million in funding coming to Wisconsin for this round of DMC funding, up from last year. 

Vilsack emphasized the importance of supporting small to mid-size dairy farms, like the Hinchleys, to promote diversity and opportunity in farming.

"You've seen a consolidation of farming in this country, and you've seen a reduction in the number of farmers in this country," Vilsack said, crediting big farm consolidation in the name of efficiency for the decrease. "As important as productivity is, it has to be balanced with resilience. It has to be balanced with the opportunity for small and mid-sized operations to be able to make it if people choose."

According to Vilsack, 89.6% of farmers cannot generate a majority of the income it takes to keep the farm running through farming alone. 

"While the other 10% are doing quite well, and probably are very, very large, I think the responsibility of the department is to make sure that we do something about those 89.6%," Vilsack said. 

However, concerns about fair market pricing for dairy farmers is still front of mind, despite government support.

“The Dairy Margin Coverage program has been a valued safety net, and new changes to the feed cost calculations will help producers receive more payments," said WFU President Darin Von Ruden, "While this money will help farmers and comes at a key time as they clean up year-end books, it doesn’t address the systemic issues that are forcing dairy farmers out of business. Most farmers would much rather receive their paycheck from a fair marketplace than from government handouts.”

Samantha Hendrickson can be reached at 414-223-5383 or shendrickson@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @samanthajhendr.