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:

Kansas/Oklahoma wildfire areas bouncing back

On this next edition of the ChadSmithMedia podcast, I had a unique opportunity to visit with a woman named Sandra Levering, a cattle producer from Comanche County in Kansas.  If that rings any kind of bells, it’s because they were part of a large area on the Kansas and Oklahoma border affected by the biggest wildfire they’d seen in that area’s history.  It burned roughly 400.000 acres.  Thankfully, there was no loss of human life, but livestock was badly affected as was a lot of pasture and grazing areas.

Kansas/Oklahoma wildfire areas recovering

A shot of the grass fires that roared through the Kansas and Oklahoma border areas in late March. It totaled nearly 400,000 acres of land before it was put out. (photo from KFDI.com

The amazing part of the story is this:  With apologies to the movie Pay It Forward, that’s just what the situation turned into.  Levering was one of the folks who took it upon themselves to coordinate aid to those farmers who needed it.  They brought in loads and loads of hay to help feed cattle that literally had nothing.  Loads of people came down from the north to help with repairs, including a whole lot of fencing to put up.

The one thing I want you to remember is this:  If you hear a so-called “expert” tell you that farmers don’t care for their animals, listen to the emotion in Sandra’s voice when she spoke about the animals that were badly injured in the fire.  You’ll either change your mind or have to check your pulse to make sure you’re still alive.

Kansas/Oklahoma wildfire areas are recovering

Harvey County, Kansas lands that were burned by a 400,000-acre wildfire in late March. Recovery efforts are well underway, and reports of green grass growing in the affected areas are starting to come in. (photo from ksn.com)

She is out in wide open spaces, so her cell phone dips a little, but I think you’ll get the gist of what’s happening and how that area has slowly begun to bounce back from a horrible tragedy.  After all, as she puts it, “In agriculture, we don’t wait for the government to come help us, we do it ourselves.”

 

 

 

Ag businesses working hard to find labor

The nation’s unemployment rate remained steady through January at 4.9 percent. The US Department of Labor said over a half million workers were discouraged, meaning they had quit looking for work because they believe no jobs are out there for them.

Businesses across the agricultural spectrum want those folks to know there are jobs out there. Ag is having an especially hard time finding skilled labor, and businesses in Nebraska and Kansas are taking some unusual steps to find the help they need. Those steps include tuition reimbursement for students as well as hiring their first corporate recruiters to build relationships with those students.

Ag businesses working hard to find skilled labor

Landmark Implement of Nebraska and Kansas is taking unusual steps to overcome a serious shortage of skilled workers in the Ag labor force. (Photo from Twitter.com)

“My responsibilities are twofold,” said Deanna Karmazin, the new Corporate Recruiter at Landmark Implement, a John Deere dealer. “We have 17 dealerships across Nebraska and Kansas, and I’m trying to fill our open positions. Those positions include service techs, people at the parts counter, and people to work in wash bays, do the maintenance, and such.

“The second part of it will be to work with high school Ag programs and tech programs across Nebraska,” Karmazin said. “We have to cultivate a workforce. I’m trying to identify kids that would like to enter the field of diesel technology, or precision farming, get them under the Landmark umbrella, get them sent off to school and guarantee them employment.”

Deanna knew going into her job that labor would be hard to find. What she didn’t realize is that there just aren’t many young people that understand agriculture.

“You might have some that know how to work on engines,” she said, “but they really don’t understand what a tractor or combine is. They may not even understand the agricultural lingo.”

Stories abound regarding the “graying of production agriculture, i.e. farmers.” But even businesses that serve Agriculture are having a hard time replacing some of their older workers when they decide to step away.

“It’s been very tough for us to find skilled labor,” said Rick Kloke, the Corporate Service Tech Supervisor at Landmark. “In a lot of ways, it’s one of the biggest things that limits us in terms of being more productive. It’s not tooling or internal resources, it’s just the manpower to get jobs done.

Ag businesses working hard to attract skilled labor.

250 High school students exploring careers as John Deere technicians at SCC Milford, Nebraska. (contributed photo)

“In south-central Nebraska (Hastings dealership,), we tend to bring in people with strong agricultural backgrounds,” Kloke said. “We’ve lost a fair amount of guys who want to go home and see if they can make things work on the family farm.”

He added, “Some guys are successful, but some are back within a few years. Losing guys will create a big void for us. Even the guys that come back have fallen behind after a few years because the technology has changed so much.”

As a corporate recruiter, Karmazin has a lot of tools she uses to develop relationships with people and organizations that can help her grow their workforce. Internet options for advertising jobs include their own website as well as careerbuilder.com. She said the rest comes from word-of-mouth. She said people in small towns generally have the best ideas about top potential candidates.

Chambers of Commerce within cities in Nebraska and Kansas also makes good sources, especially when they host job fairs.

“As our workforce has aged out, Ag hasn’t done a good job of succession planning for the next generation of workers,” Karmazin said. “Also, things have changed so much with tractors and other equipment running on computers now. We’re looking for a different type of laborer than in the past.”

Once the recruiting process singles out good candidates, Karmazin said Landmark Implement is taking another step to cultivate their workforce.

Ag businesses working hard to find skilled labor

Jim Cope is a senior at Springfield Platteview high school in Nebraska. He is one of the students LandMark is sponsoring through the John Deere tech program. He will start college in October.  (Contributed photo)

“We will sponsor them through the John Deere Tech Program at the Southeast Community College campus in Milford, Nebraska,” Karmazin said, “or anywhere there’s a John Deere tech program. They become certified John Deere technicians. They’ll be working on all the older and newer equipment, and have all the diagnostics for John Deere.”

She added, “Once they’re in there, they’ll understand all of the equipment from start to finish.”

Landmark will offer students a paid shadow experience. They’ll pay the kids for between 60–90 days to do career exploration to see if it’s something they want to do before they get into any of the tech programs in Nebraska or Kansas.

Students also get on the job experience and a paycheck while they go to school to learn. When they graduate, they’re guaranteed a job at any of the locations, plus, the company will help pay their tuition.

“We take their tuition (minus housing) and prorate it every month,” Deanna said, “so every month they work for us, they take off a part of that debt. If they stay for 36 months, 100 percent of their tuition will be paid off completely in three years.”

The program has been going on for a few years, and it’s been very successful so far.

“We’ve gotten some very good people out of it,” said Rick Kloke, “and several of them are destined to be more than shop floor technicians. I see some future leaders in that group.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diesel prices head lower, but for how long

Diesel prices have been trending lower for a couple of months now.  They’ve finally begun to follow gas prices lower at the pumps, but the big question is this:  How long can diesel and energy prices in general trend lower?  It’s a big question at this time of year for farmers who want to start contracting ahead for spring needs in 2015.

As part of a story assignment for the Midwest Producer newspaper, I caught up with Tracy Haller, the Energy Procurement and Marketing Manager for Farmway Cooperative in north central Kansas.  She said it’s hard to know what’s ahead without a crystal ball, but in the short-term, prices may continue to soften, but there will be a definite price floor for crude, and you’ll know when it hits.  Give a listen to my weekly podcast:

Tracy is the Energy Procurement and Marketing Manager at Farmway Cooperative, with 37 locations in north central Kansas (photo from www.farmwaycoop.com)

Tracy is the Energy Procurement and Marketing Manager at Farmway Cooperative, with 37 locations in north central Kansas (photo from www.farmwaycoop.com)

 

 

 

 

 

I would absolutely love to hear any ideas on podcast stories and guests you’d like to hear from on my website.  Please email me at chadsmithdad@gmail.com