What’s ahead for Wisconsin agriculture? It’s a gamble.

Jim Holte
Looking ahead at 2019, WFBF President Jim Holte feels as though it’s almost as good as shaking a Magic 8-Ball for answers.

I’m sure you’ve seen a Magic 8-Ball at some point in your life. These toys provide endless amounts of fun for children and sometimes adults.

If you’re unfamiliar, basically you ask a question and then you shake the ball. Once you stop shaking, an answer to your question appears on a small screen. A standard Magic 8-Ball has 20 possible answers.

Looking ahead at 2019, I feel as though it’s almost as good as shaking a Magic 8-Ball for answers.

If I were to ask the ball about commodity prices, it would most likely say: Outlook not so good. While some predictions have come in slightly more positive than imagined, it sounds as though our farmers won’t be seeing much relief anytime soon. As an organization we continue to help our members by stressing to our appointed officials and those on Capitol Hill that our agriculture community continues to struggle. Unfortunately, our organization cannot change the market price.

Will trade discussions be wrapped up soon? My sources say no.

I agree with the Magic 8-Ball’s answer. Not only do we have intense on-going discussions with China, but the newly-signed USCMA (revised NAFTA) isn’t ratified yet. We are left with on-going retaliatory tariffs and a large load of uncertainty. 2019 will continue to involve trade negotiations, hopefully favorable to farmers.

If I were to ask the ball about infrastructure funding, it would most likely say: Cannot predict now. This is quite factual as we head into a new year with a new state administration. Infrastructure funding is something Wisconsin Farm Bureau has continuously advocated for and will again be on the priority list for the next budget cycle. Our infrastructure is the backbone to our agriculture community. If we can’t get our products off the farm, what’s the sense in growing them? Investments for our roads and bridges needs to remain a focus in 2019.

Will we be getting additional support for broadband?Ask again later would probably be the answer. We have seen some help on this issue through additional funding but if we are going to allow our farmers to compete in today’s business world, we need to provide them access to online tools.

Will the topic of water quality go away any time soon? Don’t count on it. Water quality will continue to be a topic of importance for farmers and our neighbors. It is critical that we continue to lead the way with the producer-led watershed initiative and nonpoint source funding. Giving resources to these programs must stay a priority.

Will WFBF continue to address the concerns farmers have with crop and livestock damage from wildlife? Without a doubt.

Wildlife issues are different around the state. Whether it’s bears, wolves or other wildlife our organization will continue to ask for a way to control populations and reimburse farmers for losses.

Will we see any movement on immigration? Reply hazy, try again. A reliable workforce has been an on-going issue for Wisconsin farmers. Congress needs to pass responsible immigration reform that addresses the current experienced workforce and creates a new flexible guest worker program that would address the needs of our dairy industry.

Just like you, we are looking for answers as we move through 2019. Agriculture strives for continuous improvement whether it’s on the farm or within Farm Bureau. Sometimes it feels like we are just sharing a Magic 8-Ball when predicting outcomes. Know that Farm Bureau is here to help your voice be heard and will be looking at a variety of issues this upcoming year.

Jim Holte, Wisconsin Farm Bureau President

Jim Holte, a grain and beef farmer from Elk Mound, Wis., has been president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation since 2012. This commentary first appeared in the WFBF publication Rural Route.