This certainly isn’t an easy time for anyone whose livelihood depends on agriculture. Between painfully low milk prices, the partisan politics that always seems to surround and, more often than not, set back a new farm bill and ramped-up concerns over trade, there’s no shortage of things to keep farmers and those who support them up at night.
But one can’t help but feel a renewed sense of optimism with the official onset of spring. Although there’s still far too much snow on the ground here in northwestern Wisconsin and planting season still seems to be a long ways off, we know it won’t be long before farmers hit the fields in full force, not knowing what the future holds but hopeful that weather will cooperate and yields will be abundant. And of course, the calves, lambs and other newborns we welcome this time of year warm the heart.
On March 20, we celebrated National Ag Day. Of course, to those of us who work in agriculture, this is not a single day to be circled on the calendar but something we celebrate all 365 days of the year. Appropriately, this year’s theme was “Food for Life.” Truer words may never have been spoken, as certainly, we all need food each and every day, without exception.
“Americans have access to an abundance of safe and affordable food when we visit the grocery store because of the daily sacrifices of family farmers and ranchers,” said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson. “When we stop by the gas station, we’re paying less for gasoline because of biofuels grown by family farmers.”
Let this information supplied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture sink in: More than 2 million U.S. farms and ranches grow the food, feed, fuel and fiber that keep our nation running. Of those farms, 99 percent are owned and operated by families. Almost half of all land in the U.S. is cared for by family farmers and ranchers. Some 96 percent of the agricultural land in the U.S. is cultivated by family farmers and ranchers, who account for 89 percent of U.S. agricultural production.
Before getting busy with spring work, farmers are urged to make sure their voices are heard as part of the 2017 Census of Agriculture. As of mid-March, Wisconsin’s response rate was only about 53 percent, ranking the state seventh nationally; Minnesota’s response rate was 47 percent. The deadline to participate has been extended through this spring. Visit http://www.agcensus.usda.gov or call 888-424-7828 for details.
Johnson also encourages consumers to educate themselves on the farm bill as a way of supporting the agricultural community. Check out 2018FarmBill.org.
“Most consumers are probably unaware of the current economic crisis facing many farmers today,” Johnson said. “The farm economy plummeted 50 percent from 2013-16, and it has remained in this severely depressed state for the past two years. In fact, more than half of all farmers have had negative farm income in recent years. At this rate, we’re looking at losing a significant number of family farmers in the coming years if we don’t have an adequate safety net in place, and that safety net comes from the farm bill.”
Indeed, stress levels on farms may be high and money may be tight, but farmers — who sow seeds not knowing if they’ll sprout and raise and care for livestock not knowing what the markets will bring — have always been eternal optimists. They know the sun will come up tomorrow, and better times lie ahead.
Spring is a busy season for farmers, but we urge families to take advantage of nicer weather and carve out a little time to unwind, decompress and simply enjoy each other and the many sights across our beautiful region. Look for some great suggestions from The Country Today staffers later this month in our annual “Getaways” section.
The Country Today motto is “The Newspaper That Cares About Rural Life,” but it could just as well be “The Newspaper That Cares About Rural Residents.” We need you, and we appreciate you. Have a prosperous growing season.