A worldwide surplus of milk has driven down the price farmers receive to the point where many have lost money for months, or even several years, at a time. Nearly 3,000 U.S. dairy farms folded in 2018, about a 6.5% decline, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures.Wisconsin lost nearly 700 last year — almost two a day — as even dairy farmers used to enduring hard times called it quits in a downturn now headed into its fifth year.The fallout continues as farmers, on the cusp of spring planting, decide whether to invest in seed, chemicals, fertilizer and other supplies needed to raise the crops they feed to their cattle. More than 300 Wisconsin dairy farms shut down between January and May, including 90 — three a day — in April alone.Some will find the decision is out of their hands as banks refuse to extend them credit. “It’s enough to test even the most optimistic farmer limping out to the fields,” said Ronald Wirtz, regional outreach director for the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis, which regulates banks in parts of six states, including northwest Wisconsin, and keeps close tabs on agricultural lending trends. In 2018, for the third straight year, Wisconsin led the nation in farm bankruptcies. The state's smaller average farm size, particularly in dairy, is at least partly the reason, Wirtz said. The farm economy in the Upper Midwest "might generously be described as struggling to tread water," he added. Some dairy farmers say they've been getting around $15 for every hundred pounds of milk they produce — roughly 12 gallons — but their costs are between $17 and $22. Many families have exhausted their savings and credit to remain in business; a large number have at least one non-farm income to help meet the needs of their families.
A tenth of US farm operators have received more than half the money from a federal bailout designed to offset the costs of the Trump administration’s trade battles, data show. Some use legal loopholes to collect multiples of a $125,000 cap on payments. The government had doled out $8.5bn ahead of last Friday’s application deadline for farmers, the US department of agriculture said. The White House launched the Market Facilitation Program in September after China, Mexico and other countries fought back against US tariffs by raising duties on American farm goods, depressing their price. The payments reflect the farm sector’s political clout in Washington. No other US industry has received direct payments to relieve losses caused by tariffs. Between September and mid-April, $4.5bn of MFP payments went to 10 per cent of recipients, according to records the Financial Times obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act. The government limited payments to $125,000 per person or legal entity in each of three commodity categories. Farmers were also ineligible if their adjusted gross income topped $900,000. The records showed that more than 3,000 farm businesses got paid in excess of $125,000 within a single category, however. More than 100 received at least $500,000 and a handful collected almost $1m.
A broad-based coalition of 219 farm, food, rural, faith and consumer advocacy organizations delivered a letter to Congress endorsing food and agribusiness merger moratorium bills introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Jon Tester (D-MT) and Representative Mark Pocan (D-WI). The Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act of 2019 would initiate a moratorium on large agriculture, food and beverage manufacturing and grocery retail mergers to allow time to assess the impact corporate consolidation has on farmers, workers, consumers and communities. It also recommends improvements to antitrust enforcement. The bills were also introduced in the House and Senate in 2018.
But ever since a May 2018 demonstration by Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, an animal welfare group founded less than 50 miles away in Berkeley, California, Weber is concerned about his safety as he moves through his daily routine. A parked car sits at the edge of the farm. A drone flies overhead. Weber wonders if he and his brother are being watched, if DxE is preparing for an ambush. The protest began on a Spring day in 2018. Around 500 demonstrators led by DxE protested outside Weber’s farm. Dozens of activists removed chickens they described as sick or dying.In an interview with the Peninsula Press, Weber said, “they basically rushed onto the property, rushed through all the entrances … nobody could stop them.”Hours later, Sonoma County law enforcement arrested 40 activists for trespassing. Weber says the demonstration halted egg production.“It affected every aspect of our operation,” he said.That demonstration made it difficult to retain employees who were worried about harassment by activists, said Weber. Poultry workers were shoved or cursed at during the demonstration.
California tree nut growers were already feeling the effects of the U.S.-China trade war — and that was before a new round of tariffs was announced last week.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will take several actions to assist farmers in response to trade damage from unjustified retaliation and trade disruption. Specifically, the President has authorized USDA to provide up to $16 billion in programs, which is in line with the estimated impacts of unjustified retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural goods and other trade disruptions. These programs will assist agricultural producers while President Trump works to address long-standing market access barriers.Market Facilitation Program (MFP) for 2019, authorized under the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) Charter Act and administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA), will provide $14.5 billion in direct payments to producers. Producers of alfalfa hay, barley, canola, corn, crambe, dry peas, extra-long staple cotton, flaxseed, lentils, long grain and medium grain rice, mustard seed, dried beans, oats, peanuts, rapeseed, safflower, sesame seed, small and large chickpeas, sorghum, soybeans, sunflower seed, temperate japonica rice, upland cotton, and wheat will receive a payment based on a single county rate multiplied by a farm’s total plantings to those crops in aggregate in 2019. Those per acre payments are not dependent on which of those crops are planted in 2019, and therefore will not distort planting decisions. Moreover, total payment-eligible plantings cannot exceed total 2018 plantings. Dairy producers will receive a per hundredweight payment on production history and hog producers will receive a payment based on hog and pig inventory for a later-specified time frame. Tree nut producers, fresh sweet cherry producers, cranberry producers, and fresh grape producers will receive a payment based on 2019 acres of production.These payments will help farmers to absorb some of the additional costs of managing disrupted markets, to deal with surplus commodities, and to expand and develop new markets at home and abroad.
The Agriculture Department is moving nearly all its researchers into the economic effects of climate change, trade policy and food stamps – subjects of controversial Trump administration initiatives – outside of Washington, part of what employees claim is a political crackdown on economists whose assessments have raised questions about the president’s policies. Since last year, employees in the department’s Economic Research Service have awaited news of which members of their agency would be forced to relocate, after Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue stunned them by declaring he was moving most of the agency to a location outside the capital. The announcement sparked claims that Perdue was trying to pressure economists into leaving the agency rather than move their families. On March 5, the department began notifying people who were allowed to stay in Washington, but didn’t provide a comprehensive list, only telling employees in person if they made the cut. But current and former employees compiled one anyway, covering all 279 people on staff, 76 of whom are being allowed to stay in Washington. The current and former employees, all of whom requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation, say the specialties of those who are being asked to move corresponds closely to the areas where economic assessments often clash with the president’s policies, including tax policies, climate change, and the farm economy.
More than 600 people are getting involved in the hemp industry this year in Michigan. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development issued 600 industrial hemp licenses to farmers during four day-long licensing events held at the end of April.Though industrial hemp is now legal in Michigan and the U.S., the federal government is still developing the rules for a national hemp program. Rather than wait until 2020 to start the industrial hemp industry in Michigan, officials decided to launch a pilot program using a provision in the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill.
From our perspective, every candidate needs to get out into rural agricultural areas and listen and learn. And while there are alternate policies preferred by different farmers and farm organizations, there is virtually no dissension on identifying the problem. At the same time, farmers from left, right, and center agree that the current low prices are disastrous. Some see echoes of the 1980s in the rising level of farm bankruptcies. The candidates need to understand that the current low-price situation is no anomaly; agriculture is characterized by long periods of low prices punctuated by single years and short periods of higher prices.So, what are our political leaders doing to maintain a balance between our nation’s agricultural capacity and the utilization of that capacity in a way that allows farmers receive prices that enable them to remain on the land?From our perspective: not much.
Tyson Foods Inc. and Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. filed a federal lawsuit accusing a US Dept. of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) official of falsifying inspections of 4,622 hogs in 2018, forcing the company to destroy 8,000 carcasses. Tyson alleges the inspection issue resulted in $2.4 million in total losses and expenses. In court documents, Tyson alleges that FSIS inspector Yolanda Thompson, DVM, certified slaughtered hogs at the company’s Storm Lake, Iowa plant on March 26, 2018. However, the lawsuit alleges video footage showed that Thompson did not enter the pre-slaughter holding area to perform an in-person inspection of the hogs. The lawsuit states Thompson remained in her vehicle at the plant and signed the inspection cards.