Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation: 2009 “Farm Bureau Picks”

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Contact: Casey Langan, Director of Public Relations, 608-828-5711

The agriculture economy’s downturn, protection of the use value assessment law, the Working Lands Initiative, attacks on agriculture in the media and a string of weather woes were the top issues for agriculture in 2009

(This is the 16th annual review of the WFBF president’s selection of the top state agricultural issues over the past year.)

MADISON — 2009 has been a year when weather, economics and media critics posed multiple challenges for production agriculture. The issue of preserving Wisconsin farmland also surfaced in state budget debates on two different fronts. Legislators approved the far-reaching Working Lands Initiative in hopes of preserving farmland, while the use value assessment law (which has already greatly slowed the loss of farmland) dodged a bullet.

These were the top five issues facing agriculture in 2009, according to Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President Bill Bruins, who made his year-end annual “Farm Bureau Picks”.

“While it was dairy’s downturn that captured the headlines, the prices received for nearly all types of farm crops and livestock made 2009 a year most farmers would rather forget,” Bruins said. “The global economic recession that began in late 2008 dried up export markets and that dragged down farm prices in 2009. The availability of lines of credit have been essential for many farms, particularly dairy, to stay financially afloat during this trying year.”

“While the law of supply and demand has always ensured that farming has seen its share of booms and busts, 2009 was different because farm incomes fell so hard and so fast,” Bruins said. “Adding to the trouble of this volatile price situation is that farm input (fuel, fertilizer and seed) costs don’t fall nearly as fast.”

Farmland figured prominently into two differing state budget proposals that met differing fates.

“Wisconsin legislators adopted the Working Lands Initiative that overhauls the state’s Farmland Preservation Program,” explained Bruins. “Farm Bureau is strongly encouraging its members to be involved in land-use planning processes that will occur on the county level. Our members recently adopted a number of resolutions that will help this effort meet its goals in a common-sense and fiscally sound manner.”

“Farmers across Wisconsin were critical in helping stop a budget amendment that would have been devastating to our efforts to slow the loss of farmland,” Bruins said. “During the eleventh hour of budget deliberations a provision was added that would have changed the definition of farmland eligible for use value assessment.”

“The use value assessment law has saved farmers hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes since it was fully implemented a decade ago. It has proven to be the single greatest tool we have to preserve farmland,” Bruins said. “Legislators got that message loud and clear from an outpouring of calls and emails that farmers placed to the state capitol in June.”

Critiques of certain farming practices were the subject of films (Food Inc.), books (Eating Animals) and mainstream magazine covers (Time) throughout 2009. This trend touched closer to home for Wisconsin farmers when Michael Pollan’s book ‘In Defense of Food’ was selected as the literary main course for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s first campus-wide reading project known as Go Big Read. The book that was critical of both American farming practices and eating habits.

“It was critical that Main Street agriculture had a voice in the dialogue the book prompted on campus,” said Bruins, whose comments found their way to the pages of The Los Angeles Times. “This was an opportunity to let people know about the diversities that exist when it comes to farm size, type and production methods. Those diversities found on Wisconsin’s agricultural landscape and within the U.S. food system translate to a wide variety of food choices available to consumers; and despite what some books, films and magazine stories might have one believe, our nation is better off because of it.”

Weather is a perennial issue when it comes to the success or failure of a harvest. Yet, the bag of tricks that Mother Nature kept throwing at farmers in 2009, meant weather was never out of the headlines for long. The planting of crops was delayed by a cool and wet spring. An unusually cool July slowed the maturation of crops, but a warm September had farmers feeling hopeful. A wet and cool October meant that farmers were under the gun to harvest their crops when November arrived. Nearly 15 percent of the state’s corn crop was still in the field when a blizzard dumped snow across Wisconsin on Dec. 8-9.

“Farm Bureau Picks” of the top issues of 2009:

1. Agriculture’s Economic Situation.

2. Protection of the Use Value Assessment of Farmland Law.

3. Adoption of the Working Lands Initiative.

4. Agriculture Under Attack.

5. Weather Woes (Late Spring, Cool Summer, Wet October, Big December Snow).

As the second half of his annual “Farm Bureau Picks” Bruins will soon announce the five issues that he predicts will dominate headlines in 2010.