Ben Brancel Updates On Farm Production After Recent Floods

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Ben Brancel Updates On Farm Production After Recent Floods

Premiere Date: 
July 4, 2013

Ben Brancel assesses the status of farm production after the heavy rains of last week.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

Now from health care to state agriculture news. What a difference a year makes. This time last summer farmers were fighting drought-like conditions. This summer, one of the wettest on record. Farmers are either drying up or catching up. State agriculture secretary Ben Brancel is here to give us a 4th of July status report on Wisconsin farms. Secretary, thank you for being here.

Ben Brancel:

Thank you for having me.

Frederica Freyberg:

So as we've said, last year we had this drought, this year we have these rains, but we're still feeling the effects of last year's dry weather, you say.

Ben Brancel:

Yes. Last year we always were commenting about farmers had feed in the cupboard, so to speak, and so the dry weather we had some reserves available. But with last year's drought, we used all of the reserves. Our production was not what it should have been, so we were short going into the winter. And this year with the extended spring and the rains that we've had it's really exacerbated the problem from last year.

Frederica Freyberg:

So what does that problem look like for farmers across the state.

Ben Brancel:

Well, I would say the grain industry is still okay. They got delayed at their plantings. The potato people got their crops in finally. The vegetables are doing okay, although I have heard that there's been a few contracts that they said it got too late to plant, so they moved to other commodities. On livestock industry, it’s very different. We have feed shortages, and in some cases, we are having some of our dairy farmers choosing just to sell the whole herd. That they either can't find the feed or the feed has become so expensive that all they would do is lose money while trying to milk their cows.

Frederica Freyberg:

In fact, you had numbers on the number of livestock that had actually been sold.

Ben Brancel:

Yeah, May 1 of this year, we'll just use one-month cycle, in May 1 we had 10,915 farms that were milking cows in this state. June 1, in one month, we are down to 10,853 farms. So if you multiply that times 12, for a year's turn-around, it's going to be a very, very challenging year for the dairy industry.

Frederica Freyberg:

How does that kind of result compare to past years historically in terms of, you know, real difficulty for farmers?

Ben Brancel:

Well, historically we've had a reduction in the number of people milking cows, around the 40 to 50 herds a month leaving the dairy industry. When you move up towards 100 herds leaving the dairy industry in one month, that's pretty alarming. And a couple-- A year ago we put together a new program called Dairy 30 By 20. It was to help Wisconsin dairy industry get to 30 billion pounds of production by the year 2020. Everybody said, oh, that will be a cinch, it will be really easy. They're learning the hard way that it is always challenging to raise production over an extended period of time in the state of Wisconsin.

Frederica Freyberg:

What does that do to the state's Ag sector economy, to lose this kind of productivity?

Ben Brancel:

Well, we have to make up for the milk, the raw material that we put through our processing plants, either by producing it at home or buying it elsewhere. Our processors are going to find it more difficult to source milk for the processing plants. And that will eventually have a dampening effect on a dairy economy, as well as the farms we're losing. So it's not alarming, but it certainly is a concerned situation.

Frederica Freyberg:

And you think of it from the persuasion of the producer and the farmer, but what about the consumer? Should we expect higher prices then or–

Ben Brancel:

I think it's probably unexpected to have higher prices at the present time. I think it will be pretty stable. I think there's enough product in storage presently to hold those-- hold those prices pretty stable. So I would expect for the consumer they won't see much difference. I guess what I'd like to stress is that even though your grass has greened up in your yards and it seems to be normal, it is far from normal for a farmer.

Frederica Freyberg:

And the waters, I understand, are still rising, particularly on the Mississippi and in those areas. I mean, are farmers keeping kind of one eye to the sky and one eye on, you know, the crest of the rivers?

Ben Brancel:

Well, we have harvested at home in our own farm all the fields except for one and it's still too wet to get out onto that field. That should have been harvested three weeks ago. I'm talking hay. If you get to the north central part of our state, up in the Marshfield area, some of those fields will never get planted this year. The ground is so saturated. Portage County, Wood County, some of those areas are finding it very, very difficult to get their crops up, even though they might have some pretty good yields.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. Secretary Ben Brancel, thank you.

Ben Brancel:

Thanks for having me in. Next year we'll have a great report, all the way through.

Frederica Freyberg:

I hope so. Thank you. 


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