PLATTEVILLE, WI (SPECTRUM NEWS) — The issues facing Agriculture in Wisconsin are expansive and complicated.
A panel put together by WisPolitics and the Center for East Asian Studies at UW-Madison sought to dive into those issues at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville on Thursday. The two groups split the costs and identified panelists to tackle the discussion's agenda. UW-Platteville provided the site for the discussion.
The panel discussion featured Brad Pfaff, State Agriculture Secretary Desigbnee; Travis Tranel, State Representative (R-Cuba City); Paul Mitchell, director, Renk Agribusiness Institute; Anna Landmark, owner of Landmark Creamery; and Charles Irish, former director of the East Asian Legal Studies Center. The topics of conversation ranged from harsh weather, to financing, to the trade war with China.
When moderator Pam Janke asked Irish about the truce announcement last week where the White House said China would buy $40 to $50 billion dollars in agriculture goods, Irish wasn't optimistic.
“Don't bet on it,” he said.
Irish said China hasn't confirmed that agreement. He also mentioned that $50 billion is higher than ever by about a $20 billion margin. Later in the conversation Irish answered an audience question of who is winning the trade war. He said people in China think they will win and people in the U.S. Think they will win, but the reality could be neither will win.
“On both sides they will declare a victory and they will walk away without much changing,” Irish said.
Irish said the losers of the trade war are U.S. Agriculture, the Chinese economy and the U.S. Consumer. Pfaff talked about how those trade disputes can impact farmers here, saying if the world market prices go lower so do prices locally.
“Most producers obviously don't necessarily produce for the export market, but the export market plays such an important role in what is happening here in the countryside,” Pfaff said.
Pfaff said Wisconsin exported more than $1.6 billion dollars in agriculture products in the first six months of 2019, which is down seven percent compared to last year.
The current climate for farmers with years of lower prices across several crops and products makes it harder for new farmers to get into agriculture or expand.
That was something Landmark talked about as she described trying to grow her creamery and cheese processing company over the past few years. She said it's been difficult for her business to build equity.
“Banks obviously are reluctant to make loans now and so growth has been challenging i think we could grow a lot faster if we had access to other cash and other services,” Landmark said.
Mitchel said the past five or so years of low prices across most crops has dug farmers into a financial hole.
“I think it will take us a few more years even after the markets recover, assuming they do, to get going again,” Mitchel said.
The panel took place at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville campus which is one of the campuses that is going to be involved in the Dairy Innovation Hub which received funding from the capitol earlier this year. Pfaff said that's one example of the way that Wisconsin should be investing in agriculture.