The crop insurance battle continues

Crop Insurance

Here’s a photo of winter wheat in western Kansas buried under a snowstorm last weekend. Crop insurance is an important product for farmers in times like these. (Photo from the High Plains Journal)

WHEAT GROUP TWEAKS HERITAGE OVER BLIZZARD DAMAGE: David Schemm, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, wants representatives of The Heritage Foundation and taxpayer watchdog groups that criticize the federal crop insurance program to witness the damage a spring blizzard inflicted on fields in Kansas, the country’s biggest wheat state, over the weekend. The storm, which dropped a foot to 17 inches in places, hit eastern Colorado, parts of Nebraska and the western part of Kansas, where NAWG estimates it destroyed 43 percent of the state’s winter wheat crop. The timing couldn’t be worse, as wheat farmers are already reeling from several years of extremely low prices.

“From their rhetoric, they would say a lot of farmers will go bankrupt and that’s how it’s supposed to be,” Schemm said of taxpayer groups and the conservative think tank on Tuesday as he surveyed his 4,500 acres of damaged wheat in Sharon Springs, Kan. NAWG had earlier tweeted: “A late season blizzard puts 43% of Kansas’ planted wheat acres under 14 inches of snow. @Heritage how would you handle w/o #cropinsurance?”

About 7.7 million acres of wheat in Kansas – more than 90 percent – are covered by a crop insurance policy, a liability amount equal to $1.1 billion, NAWG estimates based on USDA’s 2016 data. Most of those policies protect against revenue losses, as opposed to just drops in yield, the group said, making an important distinction.

Heritage’s two cents: It’s not true that the Heritage Foundation is against all forms of crop insurance, said Daren Bakst, the group’s research fellow on agricultural policy. “On the yield side, we should be covering deep losses,” like those experienced in the recent storm, he said. “Other risks farmers should be managing on their own.” Heritage did call for eliminating crop insurance policies that guarantee revenue when it released a 65-page paper – which Bakst edited – on managing risk in agriculture last year. Pros, read the report here.

Here’s the podcast recapping the damage in Kansas as well as some better news regarding rebuilding after the wildfires that raged through the plains states:

What’s next regarding NAFTA?

American agriculture will have a hard time succeeding without a solid trading relationship with other countries. Now that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is off the table, new President Donald Trump and his administration are now turning their attention to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It’s the first time an administration took a serious look at renegotiating at least parts of the deal since it was signed during the Clinton administration.

NAFTA, Free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico

The Trump Administration still has a goal of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico in an attempt to make it more favorable for America. (photo from CNN Money)

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture recently held their winter policy conference in Washington, D.C., and trade was one of the biggest topics of conversation. Nathan Bowen is the Director of Public Policy at NASDA. He says that NAFTA has been a very good thing for agriculture for a long time.

“U.S. agriculture depends on export opportunities for our livelihood,” Bowen said. “With the new administration, there’s a lot of talk about what’s going to happen on the international trade front.”

Bowen says NAFTA has been very important for U.S. farmers and ranchers, who depend on the markets in Canada and Mexico for significant parts of their livelihood. NASDA wants to make sure as the administration looks at redoing NAFTA, agriculture has a place at the table.

“We are working to make sure that agriculture keeps the gains they’ve made under NAFTA,” Bowen said, “and that we do take opportunities that are there to strengthen the agreement. Farmers send a whole range of commodities to markets in both Canada and Mexico.”

He says NAFTA has been good for a whole list of Ag sectors, including beef. U.S. beef exports to Mexico and Canada have almost tripled since the beginning of the agreement. It was a little over $600 million dollars back in 1994, rising to $1.9 billion as recently as 2015.

“The access that U.S. beef has enjoyed in both of those markets has really been important for the industry,” Bowen adds. “The same could be said for corn, with significant gains in that sector, and pork is another really good success story.”

Bowen adds that there really isn’t a timeline for negotiations between the three countries to begin but he’s hopeful it will start as soon as possible so that agriculture will know where it stands with market access to Canada and Mexico.

Here’s the complete conversation with Bowen:

MN Farmers Union applauds passage of Rural Finance Authority Legislation

Rural Finance Authority

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton is shown here signing legislation to fund the Rural Finance Authority, a vital tool to helping farmers get access to the credit they need every year to produce their commodities. (photo contributed by MFU)

Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) applauds the signing today by Governor Mark Dayton of legislation to fund the Rural Finance Authority (RFA). The RFA is a vital tool that helps farmers secure funding for various types of loans, including restructured loans, beginning farmers, and farm improvement loans.

MFU appreciates the efforts of the chief authors Rep. Tim Miller (R-Prinsburg) and Sen. Andrew Lang (R-Olivia) as well as many legislators from both sides of the aisle. MFU is pleased that so many state legislators recognized the need to expedite funding for the RFA, which has lacked funding since December 31st, 2016. That has left the RFA unable to process loans.

Rural Finance Authority

Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish talks about the reauthorization of funding for the Rural Finance Authority, signed into law by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton. (contributed photo from MFU)

MFU President Gary Wertish, also a member of the RFA Board, says “This legislation comes at an important time when farmers are making decisions for the 2017 planting season. This legislation gives farmers a good option to access credit.”

The RFA partners with local banks in lending on the programs they have.
MFU encourages farmers to take another look at the RFA (which is run by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture) and its menu of loans now that the bill has passed. The information can be found at: http://www.mda.state.mn.us/agfinance or by calling 651-201-6556.

Minnesota Farmers Union—Standing for Agriculture, Fighting for Farmers (www.mfu.org).

Wertish elected MN Farmers Union President

Gary Wertish, MN Farmers Union PresidentCongratulations to Renville County, Minnesota farmers Gary Wertish, just elected as the new President of the Minnesota Farmers Union. A well-deserved honor. I spent several years as Farm Director at KLGR radio in Redwood Falls and saw on a first-hand basis that Gary tirelessly worked for farmers. He’ll do a fantastic job as the new President, taking over for the retired Doug Peterson.

Gary Wertish, MN Farmers Union President

Gary Wertish was elected as the new Minnesota Farmers Union President during a special election on Saturday, January 21. He replaces the recently retired Doug Peterson as the head of the organization. (photo from myklgr.com)

Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) held a special election on Saturday, January 21, 2017 to elect a new President.

Former MFU Vice President, Gary Wertish was elected by Minnesota Farmers Union board members on Saturday to be the 10th President of Minnesota Farmers Union.

Gary has served as the Vice President of Minnesota Farmers Union since 2009, and has filled in as interim President since Peterson’s retirement.
Prior to being elected as Vice President, Gary had worked as a field representative for Farmers Union. Gary has also worked for then-Senator Mark Dayton as his Agricultural Director. He farms with one of his sons, raising corn, soybeans, and navy beans.

“Today marks a new era within the Farmers Union organization. Being elected as the new President is humbling” remarked Gary Wertish “I look forward to continue working with entire Farmers Union membership, along with other agricultural groups to enhance the economic interests of a struggling rural economy, which is just as important now as it ever has been. We will work to keep our momentum flowing and to bring new ideas to the table that will help us reach new goals within the organization, and to continue fighting and representing family farmers.”
Gary is married to his wife, Jeanne; together they have four children and live in Renville, MN.

Minnesota Farmers Union President looks ahead

2015 was a mixed bag in agriculture, and that might be a bit of an understatement.

On the one hand, production levels were good in many commodities, including a record crop for soybeans and the third largest corn crop on record. On the other hand, the prices for those commodities were not good at all. Those conflicting numbers have brought some tension back into family farming that hasn’t been seen in several years.

Farmers Union President

Doug Peterson, Minnesota Farmers Union President, said agriculture was a mixed bag in 2015, and challenges are ahead in the new year. (Photo from www.myklgr.com)

“Family farming, as a whole, had a pretty good year in 2015 as far as yield,” said Doug Peterson, the Minnesota Farmers Union President. “Prices went to hell in a hand basket, and that puts a lot of edginess back into farming.

“Prices were good for a number of years, but now when inputs haven’t gone down and prices have, that brings challenges in the balance sheets,” said Peterson. “As a result, there may some changes in loaning procedures by local banks because they’re scared.”

Peterson feels the future of agriculture is still good, and the Farmers Union spent some time traveling around the world for a firsthand look.

“We participated in the World Farmer Organization (WFO) General Assembly in Milan, Italy,” Peterson said. “We also took part in a Food, Faith, and Farming symposium as well. We talked about family farming, the environment, and how to sustain the family farm in policy decisions.”

The overseas tour also included a face-to-face with Pope Francis.

Farmers Union President

Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson meets with Pope Francis Wednesday, March 25, 2015. Peterson and other U.S. farm leaders discussed family farmers with the Catholic church leader. (Minnesota Farmers Union photo)

“We met with Pope Francis and his Secretary of State to talk about his encyclical and making sure that family farmers were part of the focus of the Pope’s message on stewardship in agriculture,” Peterson said. “We also had a chance to speak with leadership of the Vatican about family farms.

“We talked with the leadership about the importance of stewardship and family farms,” Peterson said. “We were told that Pope Francis himself feels all religions in the world should pay attention to the stewardship and the sustainability of family farms. Family farms, and not corporations, are the ones that have the ability to feed the world.”

Vatican leadership, as well as Pope Francis, appears to be very concerned about corporate farming.

“They are very concerned, as we are in Farmers Union, about the corporate takeover of family farms around the world,” said Peterson, “and I’ve done enough traveling to see the dirty hand of multi-national corporations coming in and usurping the family farmers for profit.”

He said Mexico is a good example of the dangers of corporate farming.

“Corporations are farming land in other countries (like Mexico),” Peterson said, “and then exporting it back to their home countries.

“That brings us back to Minnesota, where we have an anti-corporate farming law,” said Peterson, “and we don’t allow foreign countries to own farmland in the state either. There are a lot of other states around us that have lost that law, and the ability to control that in their legislative process.”

The Minnesota Farmers Union and it’s President, Doug Peterson, are very concerned about corporate farming squeezing smaller family farms off their land and out of business. (photo from truthdig.com)

The Minnesota Farmers Union and it’s President, Doug Peterson, are very concerned about corporate farming squeezing smaller family farms off their land and out of business. (photo from truthdig.com)

He said North Dakota is facing a battle over corporate ownership of dairy and pork farms.

“Concentration in farming is going to be one of the top issues in the next 10 to 15 years,” Peterson said. “We need to make sure farmland stays in the ownership of family farmers.”

Vigilance will be the key because anti-corporate farming laws are always under attack, and will be again in 2016.

“Back when I was in the legislature (1991-2002),” Peterson said, “there were moves to get rid of the corporate farming law, and to allow foreign ownership of land.

“In fact, about five years ago, we had an attempt by Goldman Sachs to come to the legislature and asked to have an exemption carved out for them,” said Peterson. “We defeated that. So we’re on top of it in Minnesota. But I don’t care who you are, there’s always going to be a threat.”

He added, “It’s always going to be about other people wanting to own land. It’s no different than outside investors, nature conservancies, or outside investors wanting to come in and own land. You get it from all sides.”

The challenges of transferring land ownership can exacerbate the problem.

“Farmers have to figure out what they’re going to do to transfer their land to others,” Peterson said, “and it’s a very slow and costly process to keep family farmers on the land.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mental stress hard on Agriculture

The recent collapse in commodity prices are putting a damper on agriculture’s bottom line, which can lead to challenges, especially between a farmer and their family.

Lower commodity prices and recent unfavorable weather have upped the stress level in farmers all over the country, and 2 experts at Kansas State University want you to know it’s normal, and it’s okay to seek help in dealing with challenges, many of which are unique to farming. (photo from fyi.uwex.edu)

Lower commodity prices and recent unfavorable weather have upped the stress level in farmers all over the country, and 2 experts at Kansas State University want you to know it’s normal, and it’s okay to seek help in dealing with challenges, many of which are unique to farming. (photo from fyi.uwex.edu)

Mental health can be overlooked in the day-to-day challenges of farming. During the down cycles, which are typical for agriculture, it’s more important than ever that farmers take care of themselves and their families. Mental health experts at Kansas State University say it’s easier to fight through the tough times together, rather than trying to do everything yourself.

“Typically, when we hear from people, it’s not one stress but a pileup of different things that are happening,” said Charlie Griffin, a Research Assistant Professor in the Kansas State University School of Family Studies and Human Services. “Financial issues, weather issues, the daily issues that always crop up like the combine breaking down at harvest time, and they all pile up simultaneously.”

Charlie Griffin

Charlie Griffin is a Research Assistant Professor of Programs for Workplace solutions in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University. (Photo from k-state.edu)

He added, “That’s when we really start to hear from people.”

Griffin said different sectors of agriculture could experience stressors while other sectors are succeeding.

“It depends on who you’re talking to and what sector (of Ag) you’re talking about,” said Griffin. “Throughout my time in agriculture, I’ve realized what may be good for livestock farmers may not be good for crop farmers, and vice versa. But if you look at the folks that are diversified, they can balance back and forth one way or the other.”

Griffin adds, “The livestock farmers I’ve talked to are doing really well.”

Lower crop prices can typically bring on the most stress during the winter.

“I start hearing the stress from prices in early winter,” said Griffin, “when people finally sit down and add up their bills and their income, look at government payments, all to get ready for taxes, and that’s when the big picture comes along.”

Griffin said when crop prices take a big tumble, the temptation may be to draw comparisons to the farm crisis in the 1980’s. He said those conditions will always be hard to duplicate.

“I’m going to say the early 80’s were the perfect storm for agriculture,” said Griffin. “Everything went the wrong direction at the wrong time. Interest rates were sky high, people were borrowing big time to expand, prices fell out, input costs jumped, and the weather played havoc. Agriculture was hit hard.”

He added, “But the big thing was what happened in the banking industry. With people so dependent on borrowed money to operate from year-to-year, the banking industry changed how it was regulated. Bankers began to call in loans because they didn’t have enough collateral to cover it due to the drop in land prices. Everyone said that would never happen.

“We’ve certainly never seen anything like that again,” said Griffin.

Griffin said farmers are a very resilient bunch, but there are strategies he recommends for farm families to get through the lean years successfully.

“Be tight on your financial management,” said Griffin. “Make sure you’ve got some way of staying on top of it, including using a financial planner or manager if you need one. After all, the stress you know is a whole lot easier to manage than a vague stress you don’t know.

“The people who handle their stress better are those who go out and access resources,” said Griffin. “They go to Extension meetings, workshops, trainings, and they hire the kind of input they need. They’re learning how to do things better.”

Griffin said the other side of the coin is family communication. It’s all about how you’re handling any stress between you and your spouse, or any other family members in the operation.

“The important thing to remember is communication between family members takes work,” said Charlotte Shoup-Olsen. “It needs the most work and attention when things aren’t going well. That’s when arguments tend to happen.”

Charlotte Shoup Olsen is Professor/Extension Specialist in the College of Human Ecology at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.

Charlotte Shoup Olsen is Professor/Extension Specialist in the College of Human Ecology at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.

Disagreements are inevitable in family and business relationships, but it’s important to handle them correctly.

“Always be respectful in your communication with each other, even when you disagree,” said Shoup-Olsen. “You can disagree and still be respectful. In other words, you don’t call each other names, you don’t put them down with sarcasm, and you just be respectful.”

She said listening skills are a big key to resolving differences.

“Listen with the intent to try to understand where the other person is coming from,” said Shoup-Olsen. “Often times, in a bad conversation, you’re listening to see when you can pounce on something the other person said.”

She added, “It’s best if both parties take turns speaking and listening to each other, and doing so respectfully.”

Griffin said should the occasion arise where families are having a hard time talking, it’s important to get help.

“If you can’t sit down and talk about things in an adult way and successfully, the best thing you can do is get someone from the outside to help you,” said Griffin. “Not necessarily a therapist, but someone who can sit in and dialogue with the whole family and answer questions.”