• Farm

By Darin Von Ruden, President, Wisconsin Farmers Union and a dairy farmer from Westby, Wisconsin.

This Farm Bill is critically important. Here in Wisconsin, we’ve seen devastating dips in dairy and crop prices. The American farm economy is on the brink of a crisis.

We need a drastic change in direction in the next Farm Bill. It may be time to focus less on how technology and exports are going to save the day and more on what can be done to address declining farm numbers, struggling rural communities, growing environmental concerns and the staggering anti-competitive consolidation in ag sectors.

American farmers and ranchers have faced a 50 per cent decline in net farm income since 2013. Net farm income is forecast to decline again in 2017, the fourth consecutive year. The 2017 debt-to-asset ratio is the highest the agriculture industry has seen in three decades.

Last year, Wisconsin lost nearly 400 dairy farms—more than one each day. The latest dairy herds report by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer protection shows the state is down 283 dairy herds in the first half of 2017.

Among Farmers Union priorities for the next Farm Bill are:

  • Rework the dairy safety net, including a mechanism for curtailing oversupply
  • Encourage investments in on-the-farm renewable energy projects like solar and wind power
  • Expand broadband internet to rural areas
  • Provide programs to assist beginning farmers and help retiring farmers transition
  • Increase funding and incentives for conservation programs to protect soil and water
  • Step up antitrust enforcement in the ag sector to ensure robust competition
  • Retain the Supplemental nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as part of the Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill is probably the most important piece of legislation for farmers and rural communities across America. Unfortunately, there is no foreseeable end to these tough conditions.