Biggest challenge isn’t ag-related


When mad cow test alerts hit the airwaves, Dusty and Cheryl Sonnenberg were worried they wouldn’t be able to market their dairy beef products.
The Henry County couple, who just won Ohio Farm Bureau’s Excellence in Agriculture award, market between 25 and 30 head of Holstein steers each year. They direct market freezer beef to an established clientele and try to build that market by selling individual cuts and packages at a farm market in the greater Toledo area.
How would consumers’ reaction to the beef disease affect them? Would the news exacerbate the widening information gap between urban shoppers and farmers?
But the couple discovered the opposite: Buyers were even more interested because they wanted, they needed, to know where their beef came from.
“We can provide a lot of assurances,” Dusty Sonnenberg offered. “We know exactly where that cow came from.”
The couple, however, aren’t full-time farmers. They wish they were, but Dusty’s job as an extension ag agent provides the medical insurance coverage and retirement benefits they may not otherwise be able to afford.
That’s the biggest challenge facing agriculture, the young couple said.
Not trade, not commodity prices, not debt structure. Health insurance.
Unless you are a self-employed business owner, it’s hard to relate. Your biggest gripe may be that your employer is asking you to start paying a portion of your health care premiums.
A recent survey of Wisconsin dairy farmers found nearly 1 in 5 (18 percent) had no insurance at all. Younger farm families and those with children under 18 were more likely to be uninsured.
One farm family member surveyed described the situation this way: “We have gone without health insurance for 12 years because decent health insurance is just too costly

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