Another climate change is needed for agriculture


Does your state (county, borough, village, township, fill in the blank) like its farms?

Does it realize the economic impact of agriculture? Is there a welcome mat out for new farms? Do the powers that be understand the value of green space, of a “viewshed,” that a farm contributes?

Or is agriculture snubbed and ignored like a second-class citizen? Are local regulations and ordinances in conflict with sustainable, profitable farm businesses? Are state and local government officials like many rural residents who like the open space and the view, but hate the smell and dust and slow-moving tractors that track mud onto the road?

What’s your state’s business climate for agriculture?

California, undeniably an ag powerhouse as the No. 1 state in the nation for total value of agricultural products sold, is no longer a sunny state for livestock producers. A successful November 2008 ballot initiative, Proposition 2, toughened livestock confinement rules, targeting the size of chicken cages and hog gestation crates.

From all accounts read, egg producers there are not really sure how, or if, they’re going to make the investment to increase cage sizes. Some producers will, some producers won’t and decide perhaps it’s time to retire from poultry farming, and still others may decide to tell California good-bye and take their farms elsewhere.

That’s what Idaho, Nevada and Georgia are hoping, because those states have already made some type of recruitment outreach to California egg producers, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.

Did California voters really have that in mind when they cast their ballots? To run farmers out of town? I don’t think so, but it might turn out that way.

Contrast California with Wisconsin, which started a Value Added Dairy Initiative in 2004 to “reinvigorate” the state’s dairy industry. The collaboration of state, federal and private partners coordinated grants to dairy farmers, processors and local organizations to help them reinvest in their operations, or introduce new products. Some used grants to transition to intensively managed grazing dairies. Organizations developed programs to match dairy farms with crop farms to enhance income on both sides. Some used grants to get professional advice or services to improve management.

In its first five years, the state effort has attracted $8.8 million in federal funds, which were matched by in-kind contributions across Wisconsin’s dairy sector.

Has it worked?

According to a USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service survey, Wisconsin dairy plants invested nearly $1 billion to modernize their operations, with projections of another $781 million in planned reinvestments. Six new specialty dairy plants have opened.

Milk production increased, and dairymen in the land of Cheeseheads were on track to set a new milk production record in 2009, surpassing the old record of 25 billion pounds set in 1988. More than half of all Wisconsin dairy farmers have taken advantage of the Dairy Investment Tax Credit, triggering a $565 million reinvestment in their farms statewide.

Today, Wisconsin’s share of the specialty cheese market is almost 20 percent, up from 12 percent in 2002. Of the state’s 138 cheese plants, 99 are now producing specialty cheeses.

Wisconsin loves its farmers, and you’ll find “America’s Dairyland” license plates on every state vehicle.

That’s the farm business climate we need in every state.


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  1. It’s not really “all accounts” that indicate CA egg producers don’t know how to comply with the modest requirements of Prop 2. They know exactly what it means: going cage-free.

    CA egg producers argued in the state’s official voting guide—which is the last word in determining the measure’s intent—that the ballot measure was “so extreme” that it would have the effect of “forcing hens outdoors for most of the day.” In short, the opponents didn’t just say Prop 2 would mandate cage-free systems, but also free-range systems (the latter being a point HSUS contested).

    An election season economic analysis—repeatedly touted by Prop 2 opponents—produced by the University of California asserted, “…if passed, the resulting regulations would eliminate the use of cage systems for laying hens in California.”

    And even after the election, the United Egg Producers, the Georgia-based egg trade association group that ran the campaign against Prop 2, wrote authoritatively: “Cages for laying hens and sow gestation crates will certainly be outlawed.”

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