Roger Johnson

Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, answers a question from a Chippewa Valley farmer at his Kamp Kenwood address on Thursday, August 17.

SARAH SEIFERT, The Herald

TOWN OF ANSON — Republican healthcare reform, President Donald J. Trump’s trade stance and immigration reform: all three hot-button topics are affecting Wisconsin farmers.

A group of Chippewa Valley farmers discussed those sticky issues yesterday at a Wisonsin Farmer’s Union gathering at Kamp Kenwood, led by a well-known agriculture figure: Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmer’s Union.

Johnson briefed Chippewa Valley farmers about the status of the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill, and analyzed several possible Trump policies. The current Farm Act is set to expire on September 30, 2018.

After the contentious 2014 Farm Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama, Johnson said he believes the Trump administration’s 2018 Farm Bill will focus on two products: cotton and dairy.

The 2014 Farm Act introduced controversial cotton and dairy legislation. The Margin Protection Program, or MPP, introduced an insurance-like coverage program to protect dairy farmers’ wallets when milk prices and cow feed prices became too close.

58 percent of Wisconsin dairy farms signed up for MPP as of May 2017, according to a 2017 Department of Agriculture report.

However, MPP did not offer the insurance many dairy farmers needed. Milk prices have sunk 33 percent since MPP was first installed in 2014; most farms bought lower levels of coverage—and didn’t receive the payouts they expected, according to a 2017 Farm Bureau report.

That report estimates farmers paid $100 million for premiums, and ended up with only $12 million in payouts.

One Chippewa Valley farmer offered insight on regretting enrolling in MPP. George Polzin owns a fourth-generation dairy farm in the Town of Anson area.

“It was the poorest farm program I’ve ever signed up for,” Polzin said Thursday. “I’ve been a part of (MPP) since the beginning. It has never benefitted me whatsoever…I would guess almost zero benefit for any dairy producer in Wisconsin.”

Johnson said Thursday he is cautiously optimistic for farmers affected by the MPP program, in the form of the 2018 Farm Bill.

“Everyone recognizes the dairy and cotton programs aren’t working. Those two are going to get some significant new money put into them, in my opinion,” he said.

He also expects the bill to be passed on time; the 2014 Farm Act will expire on Saturday, September 30 of next year.

Johnson reasoned that since Trump’s administration has failed to pass any major legislation yet, most notably a healthcare reform bill, the current sluggish agriculture economy will motivate the administration to pass a 2018 farm bill quickly.

“I’m not here to say nothing’s going to happen for (Trump’s) whole term. But I’m suggesting…this is probably the easiest thing for them to pass,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of trouble in farm country right now.”

Johnson said he can’t predict specifically what the upcoming farm bill will change, but that he expects a modified version of MPP — hopefully one that will re-energize the dairy industry.

Polzin is more cautious about the 2018 bill. “There would have to be a tremendous improvement in the (MPP) program for it to have any benefit for me,” he said.

In Saturday’s Herald and on Chippewa.com, read about Johnson’s analysis of President Trump’s stances on trade and immigration, and what they mean for Chippewa Valley farms.

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Sarah Seifert covers the city and community of Chippewa Falls. Contact her with tips or story ideas at 715-738-1608 or at sarah.seifert@lee.net.

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