Midwest farmers hopeful as planting season begins - Paycheck

Midwest farmers hopeful as planting season begins

As production costs continue to rise, Midwestern farmers are doing their best to be optimistic about the 2021 planting season. Many are cheerful going into spring each year because it’s a time of new life and growth, and plenty of hope, all necessary traits of success on the farm.

   Perhaps Will Rogers, actor, cowboy, humorist, columnist and social commentator, said it best with his famous quote:  “The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.”

   Rogers’s realistic perspective on the farmer’s state of mind accurately captures the current attitudes of many Midwestern farmers these days. There will always be struggles in the agriculture industry but there will always be hopeful, sanguine farmers too.

   Dry weather along the Wisconsin-Illinois state line continues to be helpful to farmers as they complete tillage work and begin planting commodity crops such as corn and soybeans. But as soon as fields are planted, farmers are praying for rain. Some, like Illinois dairy farmer Matt Wundrow, are beginning to worry about an impending drought season this year.

   “We’ve enjoyed the dry weather and are getting a lot done,” Wundrow said. “We are getting to ground that hasn’t been worked for awhile; however, it’s getting scary how dry it is.”

   Wundrow, a 24-year-old, milks a herd of about 27 Brown Swiss cows with his wife and parents near Poplar Grove, Illinois. He is grateful for higher commodity prices so far this year, another common theme among Midwestern farmers.

   “Farm income potential is at levels we haven’t seen in many years,” said Ben Huber, agronomy department manager with Insight FS in Monroe, Wisconsin.

   Rene Johnson, vice president of agricultural lending with State Bank of Cross Plains in Evansville, Wisconsin, said farmers’ 2020 tax returns coming into the bank are showing decent earnings. This, paired with projected higher commodity prices in both the grain and dairy markets, is creating a more widespread positive outlook for local farmers this spring.

   “We are hoping farmers will be able to show two years or more of strong profitability by taking advantage of the prices being offered in the market now and in the future,” Johnson said.

   But keeping a pragmatic viewpoint is crucial in agriculture. Johnson noted that although milk prices are strong, feed costs continue to rise for dairy farmers, which is eroding the profit margin. Profitability and good markets are also on Monroe, Wisconsin dairy farmer Dan Wegmueller’s mind as well as the issue of hope.

   “There is lots of hope going into a new year…hope for better weather, prices and markets,” he said. “Having hope kind of makes you forget that the cost of production is more than keeping pace with the outlook on farmer profitability, autonomy and social upward mobility – none of which can be allowed to exist for the individual producer in our commodity-driven agricultural economy.”

   Hope is all that is required to lead producers willingly into a life of complete servitude that offers a rapidly diminishing amount of personal gain, he said. This is the current and future state of American agriculture as Wegmueller views it.

   Although weather and prices are improving, seeing his young son taking in the sights of the farm this spring brings joy and hope to Aaron Hass, dairy farmer from Evansville, Wisconsin. Being with family on the farm is a vital element of happiness and success for Hass.

   “Probably the most important thing I’ll be watching grow is my young son’s growth and development,” he said. “[I love seeing] his bright eyes when the tractor door opens and he hops in the buddy seat. Family farming is a dream to be passed down to the next generation.”


Mary Hookham

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