COLUMNISTS

Wisconsin farmers continue to be cautiously optimistic

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer

It’s often said, you have to be an optimist to be a farmer. While there is a lot to be thankful for as we head into 2023, there are also a lot of concerns lingering for Wisconsin farmers who experienced a year of great turmoil and change. But alas, it’s time to look ahead to a new year.

Kevin Krentz

The past year brought a war in Ukraine, severe drought pockets across the U.S., intense market volatility, as well as inflation that we haven’t experienced in 40 years. These have drastically complicated the commodity markets in the U.S.

At the farmgate we have seen increased prices for our commodities, but also experienced increased costs on everything from parts to seed and fertilizer. In general, there is optimism for 2023 because of the global demand for products but there is also skepticism among farmers.

Farmers are good at controlling what we can control. Many use forward contracts on both production and purchased inputs or protect margins through insurance or hedging. Through good management we also need to nurture our crops and care for our livestock. Balancing business needs is a major focus and seems to get more complicated by the year.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current annual inflation rate for the U.S. for the 12 months ending October 2022 stands at 7.7%. Generations of farmers have not experienced rates at this level. Add to that the supply chain challenges that have affected equipment purchases and building expansions, we have some large stress points within the agricultural community.

Higher interest costs and current land prices also make it challenging for beginning farmers to enter the industry, which will continue the trend of consolidation.

Like many other industries, another issue farmers and agribusinesses face is a severe lack of employees. The BLS also reports that Wisconsin’s October unemployment rate was at 3.3%. Labor shortages will continue to drive innovation and automation as farms find ways to become more efficient with limited workers. Once politics settle, a focus on immigration reform will be revisited.

Our state’s farmers not only supply locally but are a large part of the global food supply.

Farm Bureau has long advocated for reducing trade barriers globally and will continue to do so. U.S. farmers can compete with other global food producers when presented with barrier-free trade.

On the consumer front, food prices are constantly a focus and talking point. Some of the higher costs at the farm level are being passed to customers at the grocery stores. This is driving the demand for certain products and consumers wanting to know where and how their food is grown and raised.

Within the consumer conversation we are continuously evaluating our practices when it comes to conservation. However, in order to be sustainable, we cannot regulate farms out of business. Farmers must be able to afford to adapt to the ever-changing government regulations and industry requirements while being able to try new things that might better our resources. Wisconsin farmers have made great progress and will continue to lead innovation.

As farmers, we must be engaged at the local, state and national level. That’s where Wisconsin Farm Bureau can help.

Wisconsin Farm Bureau has advocated for farmers for more than 102 years and as farming continues to adapt to feed the world, Farm Bureau continues to adapt to support our farmers. Our members make time to educate youth and families about their food, give back to our communities, pay it forward to those less fortunate, defend farming through policy involvement and build a network of support for fellow farmers and agriculturists.

Our strength is in our numbers and grassroots philosophy. Every year, county Farm Bureau voting members forth policy that guides our organization at the local, state and national levels on issues affecting our members. There is no shortage of topics to be discussed for our farmers. When we come together as a team and a unified group, we are an enormously powerful voice legislatively. That is a large part of who Farm Bureau is and it’s up to us to maintain that reputation.

With the announcement of the UW-Madison Farm and Industry Short Course changing its structure, Farm Bureau has been at the table to ensure our young people have opportunities to further their agriculture-related educational pursuits. We have worked with all UW agricultural schools to find solutions that will meet the needs of the next generation while standing on the principles set forth by our partnering agricultural groups.

On the national scene, WFBF helped advocate for American Farm Bureau to host a national forum to discuss Dairy Federal Milk Marketing Orders as we get closer to true reform.

We also are heading into another farm bill and WFBF has established a Farm Bill Working Group made up of Farm Bureau members to help prioritize the needs of Wisconsin agriculture. This group will be an integral part of discussions surrounding our next farm bill.

There is optimism for the new year because by nature farmers are hopeful people. Coming together isn’t always easy; it’s hard to work on so many needs across the diversity we have in our state. Ultimately, we have different backgrounds, priorities and opinions. But when we come together and when we get behind one voice, we are impactful.

Kevin Krentz President of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation