In the shadow of an economic recession, the fiscal situation within the state capitol and on Wisconsin farms will be the top issues for agriculture in 2009, predicts Bill Bruins, president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.
Bruins recently announced his "Farm Bureau Picks," an annual year-end summary of the top ag stories from the outgoing year, and predictions of what he believes will be front and center in the new year. Protection of the use value assessment law, as well as new environmental regulations and land-use proposals round out his list of top potential farm issues for 2009.
"The economic situation facing agriculture is complex," Bruins explains. "We are ending a year that took many commodity prices on a roller coaster ride. The record high prices we saw for corn and soybeans last summer are a distant memory, but the elevated prices we paid for inputs like fertilizer, seed and diesel have not come back down to earth as fast."
"In light of what is going on in the general economy, we will also have to closely monitor whether or not farmers have access to the credit they need to remain in business," Bruins says. "Another situation in our farm economy that will loom large this year is the need to revamp our value-added processing sector. Our meat, cranberry, vegetable, ethanol and dairy processing facilities must all have the financial resources to grow in terms of market development and infrastructure modernization."
The record deficit facing Wisconsin's state government is will dominate headlines in 2009. Bruins suggests upcoming decisions by Governor Jim Doyle and the Legislature will also have far-reaching impacts to rural Wisconsin.
"With state leaders swimming in red ink, their solutions might result in higher property taxes and fees, or removal of programs and sales tax exemptions that agriculture needs to do business," Bruins says.
"Thanks to the use value assessment law, farmers have saved nearly $350 million annually in property taxes on their farmland," Bruins says. "This not only helped Wisconsin agriculture become more competitive against other states, but it has also greatly slowed urban sprawl. While we certainly hope changes to this law are nobody's fiscal quick-fix, this is certainly something Farm Bureau will work to vigilantly protect in 2009."
"Last year I predicted that discussions about land-use, particularly the Department of Agriculture's Working Lands proposal, would be among 2008's top issues. I think I was a year off," he notes.
State officials are said to be preparing the Working Lands proposal for induction into the budget proposal that Gov. Doyle will unveil in February. The Wisconsin Farm Bureau has formed its own land-use task force that will announce its recommendations on how to protect working farmland at Ag Day at the Capitol on March 11.
"It is my hope that this is the year that we see honest and constructive discussions about land-use issues ranging from comprehensive county planning and zoning to annexation powers by municipalities," Bruins said.
"It is also quite clear that Wisconsin farmers will have new environmental regulations to contend with from Washington D.C. and Madison," Bruins said.
The next U.S. Congress is likely to take up the Federal Clean Water Act reauthorization, while on the state level the Department of Natural Resources is revamping its runoff rules known as NR 151. Those changes will subsequently be reflected in the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection's water rules (known as ATCP 50).
"We can never predict the future, but it's likely that most or all of these issues make my list of top issues for 2009 next December," Bruins concluded.
"Farm Bureau Picks" of the top issues for 2009:
1. Agriculture's economic situation.
2. The State of Wisconsin's fiscal problems.
3. Protection of the use value assessment law.
4. Environmental regulations.
5. Land-use (Working Lands proposal).