Time to rethink our thoughts on trade?

Head shot of Bob Panzer By Bob Panzer, Risk Management Officer

This past summer has been one of major changes in thoughts and actions on world trade and the future of major sectors of the economy such as agriculture. It appears many in the west want to withdraw from trade in the international marketplace.

I was in western Canada this past summer and was asked by Canadians about the direction of the United States in world trade and other issues that involve the United States in this world. The headlines of Canadian newspapers at the time also were filled with the Brexit vote and the impact of how the vote by the British to pull back from major trade agreements of the past may harm Canadian farmers and agribusinesses.

The Wall Street Journal featured several stories in early July on how the west was retreating from world trade and how China was capitalizing on this retreat.

How is this large shift going to impact the Midwest? Will less land need to be farmed? Will the world need less farmers in the Midwest? Will there be a decline in employment of those involved in farm supply cooperatives, less need for food production workers? Will there be a need for fewer workers to be employed in transportation and the exporting of farm products?

I do not have the answers to all of those questions, but there does appear to be a shift in thought on global trade. But I do suggest we who are involved in agriculture need to think over the direction we are moving. Perhaps now is the time to think about making a shift in how we trade and market in the world.

Beginning with this thought: UnionPay, a Chinese bank card, is the most widely held and fastest growing bank card in the world. There are 5.5 billion UnionPay debit and credit cards issued in the world; that is more than the combined number of Visa and MasterCard bank cards issued.

In 2015, $8.8 trillion in debit and credit card purchases were made with UnionPay. That amount was an increase of 30 percent from the prior year. It appears Chinese consumers and Chinese banking companies are taking real advantage of major growth opportunities.

What can Midwest farmers and state governments do considering this major growth in Chinese consumers and bank advancements? Consider this: China is now the world’s largest source of tourism spending!

Perhaps Wisconsin and Minnesota state governments should work with the agriculturalists on promoting Chinese tourism. Perhaps Chinese tourists could tour farms and other major tourism attractions. One example could be a Packers/Brewers package that includes a tour and on-farm lunch at a Wisconsin dairy farm and a beef farm and wrap up with a visit to the Twin Cities and a tour of a Minnesota vineyard.

A bright, sunny day with two grain silos and a barn.

Another example would be a tour of a Wisconsin brewery, a Wisconsin grain farm that supplies the brewer, a visit to a hop producer and a Minnesota hog farm. Tourists could enjoy great grilled pork chops on a local farm or enjoy the best ice cream sundae on a Wisconsin dairy farm.

These are just a few of some ideas that could be implemented. In Canada, they estimate 500,000 Chinese tourists visit annually, and growth has been doubling every few years. If 50,000 tourists from China visited the Midwest in one summer, that may sell more than a few pork chops, gallons of ice cream and farm tours of orchards and vineyards.

State governments could promote tourism, develop a direct flight of Chinese tourists to Green Bay, Rochester and Madison for example. State government could assist in getting technical schools to train agriculturalists on how to market and develop experiences that Chinese tourists may enjoy. There appear to be Chinese tourists that are looking to learn more and see more of this great world we all live and work in.

*This article originally appeared in the Fond du Lac Reporter*

Cooperative principles: Cooperation

A graphic giving a quick explanation of the role cooperation plays in the cooperative structure


Cooperatives are organizations structured and managed according to seven guiding tenets established in 1844 and formally known as Rochdale Principles of Co-operation. This blog series explores each of these cooperative principles.

The unique structure of cooperatives, including being both owned and governed by their customer-members, embodies a culture of cooperation – with customers, with colleagues and with fellow cooperative organizations. This “Cooperation among Cooperatives” is the sixth guiding principle embraced by all cooperatives: that cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

One way cooperatives cooperate is by working together to meet the needs of their member-owners. For Farm Credit, this often takes the form of multiple System lending organizations participating in a single loan, providing the access to capital the customer-owner needs while spreading the risk and the opportunity among several distinct organizations.

Some cooperatives are formed to serve other cooperatives. For example, CoBank, a member organization of the Farm Credit System, was established primarily to serve the financial needs of agricultural and other rural cooperatives, while it also serves rural infrastructure companies and other agricultural businesses.

“Cooperatives are often competitors, but they recognize the greater good in working together to achieve things that they cannot on their own,” says Bill Oemichen, former Cooperative Network president and CEO. “For example, CHS is a federated system of cooperatives that often compete locally but recognize the strong value of cooperating with each other.”

Cooperatives also cooperate in their concern for their communities, another cooperative principle. The four Farm Credit System regional banks cooperate to support the Farmer Veteran Coalitions’ Homegrown by Heroes program, providing the funding needed to expand this Kentucky program nationwide to benefit farmer veterans and the consumers who want to support them. In 2014, eight System organizations together committed $150 million to help launch the USDA’s Rural Business Investment Program (RBIP).

With cooperation with each other such a strong focus, it should be no surprise that cooperatives have joined together to form professional organizations that facilitate networking, idea-sharing and the establishment of best practices.

Some of these organizations focus on enhancing specific roles within cooperatives, such as the National Society of Accountants for Cooperatives and the Cooperative Communicators Association; others support cooperatives more generally, such as the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and the National Cooperative Business Association.

To see previous cooperative principles, click here and here!

This post originally appeared on the AGgregator.

Cooperative principles: Education, training and information

A graphic giving a quick explanation of the role education, training and information play in the cooperative structure


During Cooperative Month, we’re exploring the role principles play in our structure. Today, we continue with principle number five.

Cooperatives, including Farm Credit, are organizations structured and managed according to seven guiding tenets established in 1844, formally known as Rochdale Principles of Co-operation.

The fifth cooperative principle of “Education, Training and Information” holds that cooperatives provide education and training for members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative. Members also inform the general public about the nature and benefits of cooperatives.

The rationale behind this principle is clear: it behooves a cooperative businesses to ensure that the people who contribute to the governing of the organization – those customers who are also owners and who elect the board of directors – are educated about the operations of the cooperative.

By the same token, ensuring that employees and managers are highly-trained and effective in their roles contributes to the efficient and successful performance of the cooperative, benefiting the customer-owners as well as the employees themselves.

Finally, helping to educate the public can help strengthen and grow the cooperative through expanded membership and can help improve the communities it serves, fulfilling another cooperative principle.

“Cooperatives view their customers as their partners, and for this reason, co-ops are uniquely focused on educating their members and strongly support education initiatives in their communities,” says Bill Oemichen, former Cooperative Network president and CEO. “In addition, because their directors are drawn from the membership, education has always been a top priority for cooperatives.”

Within the Farm Credit System, each organization provides education and training to its own constituents. These educational programs range from seminars for young, beginning and small farmers to support for specific industry conferences; programs also include employee training that contributes to long-term professional development and also focuses on issues important to the organization, such as Diversity & Inclusion.

Nationally, Farm Credit actively supports numerous educational programs through the National Contributions Program. Organizations that receive Farm Credit donations are selected in three categories, including Agriculture Education and Training.

Through organizations like National FFA and National 4-H, Farm Credit is supporting the next generation of American agriculture; through programs like Annie’s Project, Farm Credit supports current agricultural producers to become even more effective in providing the food, fuel and fiber on which we all rely.

To see previous cooperative principles, click here!

This post originally appeared on the AGgregator.

Farm Credit System donates $550,000 to the Wisconsin Agricultural Education Center

Contact: Melissa Bender                                                                                        

A computer rendering of the the new Wisconsin Agricultural Education Center


Manitowoc, Wis., Oct. 11, 2016 — The Wisconsin Agricultural Education Center (WAEC) has officially broke ground on a world-class, interactive discovery center that will focus on sustainable and responsible farming practices. The groundbreaking ceremony was held at the center’s future site near Newton at the intersection of Hwy 43 and County C in Manitowoc County.

As part of the groundbreaking ceremony, leadership from the Farm Credit System enthusiastically announced today they will support the center’s capital campaign with a $550,000 gift. The following organizations from across the country came together to make this generous investment:

  • AgriBank
  • AgCountry Farm Credit Services
  • AgStar Financial Services
  • Badgerland Financial
  • CoBank
  • GreenStone Farm Credit Services
  • United FCS

Dave Armstrong, President and Chief Executive Officer, GreenStone Farm Credit Services, represented the Farm Credit System at the event. “The future of our industry depends on a well-informed public and an appreciation for the important role agriculture plays in all our lives. The Farm Credit System is committed to the prosperity of rural communities and agriculture across our great country, today and tomorrow.  Together, these five Farm Credit associations and two System funding banks are proud to make this investment in the Wisconsin Agricultural Education Center. It is an opportunity for us to carry out our commitment, and we could not be more proud to support this valuable educational asset.”

“This generous, collaborative, gift marks 80% towards our $13 million fundraising goal,” said Nic Schoenberger, WAEC board vice president and a Wisconsin dairy farmer. “We are grateful for this partnership with the Farm Credit System, a long-standing, trusted resource so many hard-working agricultural leaders have relied upon to successfully run their businesses,” Schoenberger continued.

Today’s groundbreaking marks a significant step towards making this project a reality.  Construction is anticipated to go through 2017 and WAEC leadership are planning to celebrate a grand opening in spring of 2018. Once open, WAEC will provide visitors with the opportunity to connect with agriculture through a better understanding of where their food comes from and the tremendous impact it has on their lives and on those of everyone committed to healthy living and a healthy world.  The Center expects a wide array of visitors from every generation – from school groups to families to travelers — across the country.

It is quite an honor to break ground today with so many generous, visionary industry leaders who share our passion to tell agriculture’s important story. To count the Farm Credit System among our top donors to our capital campaign makes today even more meaningful,” said Melissa Bender, WAEC Executive Director. “To recognize their incredible support, the Exhibit Theatre within the Discovery Center will be named in the Farm Credit System’s honor.”


About Farm Credit:

Farm Credit supports rural communities and agriculture with reliable, consistent credit and financial services. With a national footprint, our lenders are local – nearly 75 independently owned and operated Farm Credit organizations provide services in the communities where they live and work. Each local Farm Credit organization is a cooperative that is owned by its customers, and has a deep understanding of agriculture in their area. This expertise enables them to understand the industry sectors they finance and provide an unparalleled level of knowledge and service to their borrower-owners.

Combined, Farm Credit organizations provide more than $235 billion in loans, leases, and related services, which is more than a third of the credit needed by U.S. agriculture. This capital helps nearly 500,000 borrower-owners plant and nurture seeds, purchase and care for livestock, buy land and equipment like harvesters and combines, build barns and milking parlors, and expand storage, packing and processing facilities. Our capital also finances agricultural cooperatives, communications, electric, power and water providers that deliver essential infrastructure services to America’s rural communities.


About United FCS:

United FCS is a member of the Farm Credit System, a nationwide network of banks and retail lending associations chartered to support the borrowing needs of U.S. agriculture and the nation’s rural economy. Serving over 6,000 customer-members and with over $1.7 billion of assets, United FCS has a primary focus in a 22-county service area in West Central Minnesota and North Central Wisconsin providing loans, leases and a wide array of financial services through 12 branch office locations and 190 locally-based employees. For additional information on United FCS, visit www.unitedfcs.com.


About the Wisconsin Agricultural Education Center:

The Wisconsin Agricultural Education Center will be a state-of-the-art agricultural education center located in Manitowoc County. It will provide visitors with the opportunity to connect with the industry by better understanding where their food comes from, and why agriculture is so important to them. The center will include a discovery center that features hands-on learning opportunities through a wide variety of displays, and the exciting option to tour the Grotegut Dairy Farm, which focuses on sustainability and best farming practices while milking 2,400 cows three times a day. A highlight for visitors will be the chance to view the birth of calves from the Grotegut Dairy Farm at the Center’s Birthing Barn.

To learn more about WAEC, please visit: www.BuildWAEC.org

Principles are what set cooperatives apart

A logo for Cooperative Month 2016


By Bill Oemichen, United FCS Board Member

People involved with cooperative businesses—the people who furnish telephone service or electricity for many rural residents, produce or process dairy foods, provide farm supplies or extend the credit to purchase them—often speak of “the cooperative difference.” As we celebrate Cooperative Month, it bears repeating what that difference is all about.

Like any business, cooperatives must comply with local, state, and federal laws aimed at deterring corrupt practices, but all businesses organized as cooperatives take it a step further: They are expected to adhere to a set of seven principles thoughtfully designed to ensure they operate soundly and successfully as businesses but also act as a force for good in the communities they serve.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll review these seven principles and how they set cooperatives apart as a business model. This time around, we’ll examine the first four principles.

Farmer and lender standing in a field with the Co-op Month logo showing

First Principle: Voluntary and Open Membership
Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political, or religious discrimination. If that sounds pretty standard, keep in mind that cooperatives chose to adopt such standards in the mid-19th century.

Second Principle: Democratic Member Control
Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. The elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary cooperatives, members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and cooperatives at other levels are organized in a democratic manner.

Third Principle: Members’ Economic Participation
Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Since many different kinds of businesses are organized as cooperatives, the need for capital held in reserve will vary from one to another, but many periodically pay back credits to members, based on their level of patronage. The idea is not to pay a dividend to outside investors but to provide the services requested by the membership, charging amounts as close to actual cost as is possible and prudent for the well-being of the organization.

Fourth Principle: Autonomy and Independence
Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy. One example of this would be the use of federal loans by electric cooperatives. Dating back to the first half of the 20th century, these loans provided capital to get coops started. But many coops have fully paid back their federal loans and those that haven’t are not a drain on the federal treasury, but rather they are net contributors. And the local members still make the decisions on rates and terms of service.

As this Cooperative Month progresses, we’ll have a look at the other three cooperative principles, including some that in their practical application are more visible to non-coop members than the ones discussed here. We’re proud of our principles, and hope that by reviewing them we can illuminate what’s behind the coop difference.

*Bill Oemichen formerly served as President and CEO of the Cooperative Network*

An American original – the cranberry

Cranberries floating in a flooded bog


Each year the United States produces a variety of fruits for commercial use. But did you know that there are only a handful of fruit options that are native to our lands?

One such native fruit is the cranberry. Chances are that when you hear the word cranberry you think of seeing those little red berries floating on a bed of water, or enjoying the sweet taste during a Thanksgiving meal. Both serve as iconic images, but there is a lot more to this berry!

History of cranberries

The history of the cranberry in North America dates all the way back to the 1500s. After discovering the berry growing wild, Native Americans used it for a variety of purposes.

Like many modern day Americans, cranberries were used as a food source. Although tart in flavor, Native Americans would often combine crushed cranberries with dried deer meat and melted fat.

Additional uses included turning the berry into a fabric dye for rugs and treating arrow wounds.

A pile of red cranberries

The term “cranberry” originates from the Pilgrim name given to the fruit, “crane berry.” Early settlers thought the berry resembled the head and the bill of a Sandhill Crane.

Cranberries were first successfully cultivated in 1816 by Captain Henry Hall of Massachusetts. According to the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association, Hall noticed that wild cranberries grew better in his bog when sand blew over them. He began replicating this process, which quickly spread to other growers.

Cranberries were first harvested in Wisconsin in 1860, near the rural town of Berlin. Since then, Wisconsin has emerged as the national leader, producing over 60 percent of all cranberries grown in the United States!

Growing cranberries

A common belief many people have is that cranberries grow in water. Although water plays an important role for both plant health and harvesting, this is a misconception.

Cranberries typically grow best in sandy soil. As a perennial plant, cranberries grow on low running vines in bogs and marshes.

In Wisconsin, the heart of cranberry production takes place in the middle of the state. Of the 21,000 acres planted in Wisconsin, Wood County tops the list with over 4,000 acres.

A Wisconsin map showing which counties produce cranberries

Image courtesy of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association

Wisconsin-grown cranberries typically flower in late June and early July. Following pollination, the berry begins to develop. Cranberries are green in color at first, but they turn red between 75 and 100 days after flowering.

Cranberry bogs are only flooded with water come harvest time, which typically occurs in late September through October. Because each berry contains a pocket of air, the berries will float to the surface when a marsh is flooded. Equipment is then used to separate the fruit from vine. After the berry has floated to the top, it’s corralled into a corner and then conveyed onto a truck.

To see a cranberry harvest in action, check out the videos below!

Although cranberry plants are resilient, Wisconsin producers will re-flood the bogs once temperatures begin to drop to freezing levels.  Each plant goes dormant during the winter season, but freezing it protects against fluctuating temperatures and drying winds. A layer of sand is added onto of the frozen plants every couple years to help provide rejuvenation.

Economic impact

The cranberry is Wisconsin’s number one fruit in both value and size. Totaling about $1 billion, the industry employs over 4,000 workers in the state.

In 2015, Wisconsin cranberry producers grew over 4.8 million barrels of the fruit. The next closest state was Massachusetts, with 2.3 million barrels. According to USDA projections, Wisconsin cranberry production is expected to increase to 5.2 million barrels in 2016.

Overall, 65 percent of cranberries grown in the U.S. remain here. On average, Americans consume nearly 400 million pounds of cranberries each year – 20 percent of which occurs during Thanksgiving week alone!

The rest of the crop is exported overseas. Foreign markets, such as China, South Korea, Germany, Poland and Mexico, all enjoy U.S. cranberries.

Be sure to follow along as we continue to highlight crops grown within our marketplace. If you haven’t already, learn about ginseng production by clicking here!


Farm Credit history: Embodying the cooperative ideal

The Farm Credit 100 logo



In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson pledged to help farmers obtain credit not available from commercial banks – banks that couldn’t support farmers and ranchers through the ups and downs of agriculture.

Detractors claimed that putting the government behind agricultural credit would give undue advantage to farmers. Wilson disagreed. “The farmers, of course, ask for and should be given no special privilege,” he said. “What they need and should obtain is legislation which will make their own abundant and substantial credit resources available as a foundation for joint, concerted local action.”

The Farm Credit System created three years later was the first organization to later bear the designation of a Government-Sponsored Enterprise (GSE), a term not then in use; the System as implemented was also the first federally-sanctioned cooperative credit association, instituting a groundbreaking approach to providing support for the nation’s farmers and ranchers when they needed it most.

The cooperative ideal – that private citizens working together democratically could do things that the market could not – was a century in the making by the Progressive Era, a period of reform spanning from 1890 to 1920. Marked by an economy that brought great wealth and great poverty, many reaped economic rewards while others were excluded in the market. Progressives called on the government to allow cooperatives to meet needs unfilled by the marketplace.

Vintage cartoon promoting cooperatives

In 1887, L. L. Polk, founding editor of the Progressive Farmer, declared that “co-operation, organization, consolidation are the watch-words of the hour.” The prolific agriculture publisher and editor Herbert Myrick tirelessly promoted the cooperative ideal as a solution to credit problems among farmers.

Although the 1916 Federal Farm Loan Act itself did not specify that the Farm Credit System would be cooperatively rather than investor-owned, the System was implemented as a cooperative, and Myrick was later honored by receiving one of the two pens President Wilson used to sign the 1916 Act. But would the System created in an era of cooperative enthusiasm endure?

The first test came in the 1920s. In Smith v. Kansas City Title and Trust Co., early opponents of the Farm Credit System held that the Constitution did not allow Congress to approve the issuance of tax exempt bonds – for farm loans or for anything else. Litigation halted lending activities for nearly a year, but in February 1921, the Supreme Court, then generally accepting of the extension of federal power to the benefit of the citizenry, upheld the constitutionality of the Federal Farm Loan Act.

Another major test on the System immediately followed. The Great Depression could have destroyed Farm Credit, but instead, the government, System leaders, and borrower-owners strengthened it, reorganizing the System while maintaining its democratic, cooperative foundations and its GSE status.

Perhaps the greatest challenge came during the agricultural crisis of the 1980s. President Reagan signing Farm Credit legislationBut as a Farm Credit Administration official stated, “foreclosure should be a last resort for any commercial lender, but particularly for a cooperative lender that is owned by its borrower-owners.” Leaders and borrower-owners rallied to defend the System – and the government listened. President Ronald Reagan declared the 1980s legislation “ensures that the Farm Credit System will continue as a principal source of private credit to America’s farmers.”

As an embodiment of the cooperative ideal, Farm Credit has met the needs of American agriculture for a century. That it has survived and grown stronger over the 100 years it has served U.S. agriculture suggests that the System’s cooperative structure will enable it to continue to serve American farmers long into the future.

This article originally appeared on The Agregator.

Wisconsin Ginseng: A world leader

A ginseng plant under shade


There are many unique crops that grow within Wisconsin, but there’s nothing quite like ginseng. This plant differs greatly from traditional mainstays like corn and soybeans. Ginseng offers farmers a chance to diversify their operation and sell directly to foreign buyers. Let’s take a closer look at this fascinating plant!

What is ginseng?

Ginseng is a root. Often described as similar in appearance to a brown or tan carrot, the shape and size of ginseng can be determined by the type of soil it grows in. For example, if a plant grows in sandy soil, it may grow long and thin. If ginseng grows in heavier soil, it may come out shorter and plump.

There are two types of ginseng plants – American ginseng and Asian ginseng. American ginseng is said to cool and sooth the body when consumed, while Asian ginseng has the opposite warming effect. Ginseng grown in Wisconsin has high levels of ginsenoside, giving the herb a bitter taste.

A ginseng root

The primary use for ginseng is for traditional Chinese and Asian medicines. Western cultures have also adopted the root as a dietary supplement. Although the actual health benefits stemming from ginseng are debated, several studies have shown promising results from the plant.

Growing ginseng

Wild ginseng was first discovered in North America in the 1700s. It made its first appearance in Wisconsin in the 1870s, although major cultivation didn’t start until around 1900.

Being native to the rich, hardwood forests in eastern United States and Canada, ginseng is best grown in moist, well-drained soil that’s high in organic matter. This description is what makes Marathon County, Wisconsin the ideal place to grow the herb.

Overall, more than 90 percent of American ginseng is grown in Wisconsin. Of that, almost Wisconsin’s entire ginseng crop is grown in Marathon County, dubbing it the “Ginseng Capital of the World.” Wisconsin ginseng is considered the best quality, fetching higher prices than roots grown elsewhere.

In economic terms, there were 183 Wisconsin growers that produced 600,000 pounds of ginseng in 2015, totaling $45 million.

Chances are good that if you’re driving around central Wisconsin in the summer you’ve seen a plot of land that resembles a vineyard. You will also notice, however, that this same plot has covering over the plants.

Ginseng is very susceptible to sunlight. Each plant requires about 80 percent shade. This can be a bit of a balancing act as excess shade reduces yields, while too much sun impacts yields and can kill plants.

Wisconsin winters can be often thought of as a negative for growing crops, but not for this herb. Winter provides cover until plants typically emerge in May.

Ginseng is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It takes several years for a plant to develop and mature. Some farmers harvest the root after three years. Others may wait another year or two to give the plant more time grow.

Harvesting ginseng can be labor intensive, depending on how large a field is. A tractor with specially-designed equipment behind it will lift the roots out of the ground and place them onto a conveyor belt. The conveyor belt then shakes the roots to remove dirt.

From there each ginseng root gets washed and dried to meet the specific characteristics of the buyer. Once this process is completed, much of the harvested ginseng is shipped across the Pacific Ocean where it will be processed and sold in Asian markets.

In what is probably the most unique feature of ginseng, once a crop is harvested, ginseng can never be replanted in the same spot again. All attempts at replanting ginseng in the same spot end with the death of the second plant. Other crops, like corn and soybeans, have no issues growing in the same spot where ginseng was once planted.

You can get a quick glimpse of a ginseng harvest by watching the video posted below.

Be sure to follow along as we continue to highlight crops grown within our marketplace. If you haven’t already, learn about cranberry production by clicking here!


Where do Clinton and Trump stand on key ag issues?

A combine harvisting a soybean field


We are only a few short weeks away from the election to decide whether Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. 

Polls in rural America continue to show Trump carrying the farm vote by a large margin. In a recent online survey of producers conducted by Farm Journal, Trump was backed by 74 percent of respondents, while Clinton drew support from just 9 percent. The remaining respondents favored write-in candidates or sitting out the election.

Both candidates have taken public stands on issues important to producers. Here are highlights:

General platform on agriculture and rural life

Clinton: The Clinton campaign lays out a four-point plan to help rural America. The plan centers around stronger rural investments, support to improve family farm profitability, funding for clean energy investments, and expanding quality-of-life opportunities in rural communities.

Trump: In the “Positions” section of his campaign website, the Republican presidential candidate does not specifically address agricultural or rural issues. However, several of Trump’s broader stated positions touch on topics that affect producers. These are noted as “position detail” in the content below.

Agriculture-related immigration issues 

Trump:  Under his “Immigration Reform” position detail, Trump supports a new requirement for companies (and, by extension, farm businesses) to hire American workers first before seeking visas for immigrant labor. To do this, the campaign says petitions for workers should initially be sent to local unemployment offices – not U.S. immigration services. Additionally, Trump’s platform calls for a halt in issuances of new green cards for immigrants, after which “employers will have to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed immigrant and native workers.” 

Clinton: In her outlined plan detail, Clinton supports comprehensive immigration reform, in part because “immigrants and migrant workers play a critical role in developing and supporting America’s agricultural economy.”

Biofuels and Renewable Fuel Standard

Clinton: Clinton’s rural agenda proposes to double loan guarantees made through the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program. The current limit for loan guarantees is $250 million. Clinton also calls for strengthening the Renewable Fuel Standard to boost “development of advanced cellulosic and other advanced biofuels to protect consumers, improve access to E15, E85 and biodiesel blends, and provide investment certainty.”

Trump: In a speech at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit in January, Trump voiced support for both biofuels and the Renewable Fuel Standard, saying that as president he would “encourage regulators to end restrictions that keep higher blends of ethanol and biofuel from being sold.”

Crop insurance

Trump: Earlier this year, Trump responded “yes” when presidential candidates were asked in an Iowa Farm Bureau poll if they supported federal safety net support for revenue risk or catastrophic disasters. In a later Politico report, the Republican presidential candidate reaffirmed his support for crop insurance, adding that “agriculture is not about food, it is about national security.” For that reason, the report noted that Trump agrees with House Speaker Paul Ryan’s position that the federal food stamp program should be separated from the Farm Bill.

Clinton: As a U.S. Senator, the Democratic presidential candidate voted for the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills. Under her rural platform detail, Clinton continues to support a producer safety net that targets “federal resources in commodity payment, crop insurance and disaster assistance programs to support family operations that truly need them in challenging times” (such as weather-related disasters).

Estate tax 

Clinton: According to a recent New York Times analysis of tax proposals for the two presidential candidates, Clinton would lower the current individual estate tax exemption from $5.45 million to $3.5 million. Similarly, she would reduce the exemption for married couples from $10.9 million to $7 million. The current estate tax rate on assets above those exempt levels is 40 percent, and the Democratic presidential candidate has said she would increase that rate to 45 percent.

Trump: In the Iowa Farm Bureau poll, Trump said he supported a permanent repeal of the estate tax. This sentiment is echoed in his campaign’s “Economic Vision” position detail, where he calls for an end to the “death tax” as one of his tax reform proposals.

GMO food labeling 

Trump: In the Iowa Farm Bureau poll, Trump said he supported the use of biotechnology (GMOs) in food products, adding that he opposed efforts to require mandatory GMO labeling for food products.

Clinton: While Clinton has consistently supported the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture, public positions on GMO food labeling have been harder to pin down. However, Clinton did use Twitter in March to say, “Congress shouldn’t block states from giving families information about their food—glad the Senate stopped this bill.” The bill in question would have prevented the state of Vermont from implementing its own GMO labeling law (since that time, Congress passed – and President Barack Obama signed – a federal food labeling that superseded the more-stringent Vermont legislation).

Trade policies

Trump: In his “Economic Vision” position detail, the Republican presidential candidate calls for appointing trade negotiators who will focus on “narrowing our trade deficit, increasing domestic production and getting a fair deal for our workers.” More specific to agriculture, Trump supports renegotiating NAFTA and does not support the proposed TPP. And, in the Iowa Farm Bureau poll, Trump said he supported Trade Promotion Authority, which allows a U.S. president to fast-track negotiation of trade agreements, subject to a non-amended, up-or-down vote from Congress.

Clinton: As part of her overall economic platform, Clinton says she does not support the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), because it does not “meet a high-enough bar of creating good-paying jobs.” In regard to broader trade issues, a 2015 Clinton campaign fact sheet noted that, “Hillary has said for almost a decade that we need to renegotiate NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) . . . and she would review all of our trade agreements with the same scrutiny.”

Rural development

Clinton: The Democratic presidential candidate’s platform has three main points in this area. First, support for increasing the number of Rural Business Investment Companies (RBICs), which are funded by Farm Credit banks to help provide capital to rural entrepreneurs and small businesses. Second, strengthening USDA grant programs by cutting bureaucracy and boosting funding flexibility. Third, expanding and making permanent the New Markets Tax Credit, which helps encourage long-term investments in economically struggling rural and non-metro communities.

Trump: To bring more detail to his rural development positions, in mid-August Trump named a national agricultural advisory committee chaired by Charles Herbster, a Nebraska cattle rancher who also owns a farm equipment business in Kansas City, Mo. The committee includes six sitting governors from Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Oklahoma, as well as other elected officials and industry leaders. 

The Clinton campaign also has a rural policy council composed of rural and agricultural advocates, but it has not disclosed the members of that group. Both candidates and their advisers have until Nov. 8, Election Day, to further articulate their positions on issues important to rural communities and agriculture.

This post comes from AgriBank’s AgriThought Report.

The need for mentoring in agriculture

Bob PanzerBy Bob Panzer, Risk Management Officer

This past spring I heard a presentation about the topic of mentoring by Pastor Mark Schultz of Peace Lutheran Church of Eau Claire. The presentation caught my interest and got me thinking about the many farmers I have worked with over the past 35 years.

If mentoring can assist individuals with their daily lives and spiritual lives, is there a system or process that could be used to improve the lives of those who farm? Could marketing be done with greater success by farmers if mentoring became a method of training? Would individual farmers be open to the idea of mentoring or being mentored on financial management? Would farmers be open to using mentoring to improve profits? Would mentoring be a success or do many actually need a coach to be a success? Could mentors be found in agriculture that are willing to commit to a long-term run at building an environment that builds the trust to make mentoring a success?

Often I see individual farmers struggle with many challenges on the farm. Many times individuals are looking for that special coach: a coach that focuses on results, changing skills of a learner, and getting the task done and comes from a top-down approach to winning the end game.

Mentoring is more a learning process that allows for self-reflection and the choice of learning, the choice of selection of what to take from the mentoring relationship and if the relationship will continue and to what degree. Coaches focus on solutions and results. Mentoring focuses on asking the right questions, encouraging thought, and sharing experiences.  Mentors focus on long-term results and developing skills for your lifetime.

Farmer and his son leaning on a gate in a paddock on a farm

Many farm producers lack adequate skills in marketing of their farm production. Of course everyone wants to sell production for the highest prices available, but often many end up selling at the low end of the marketing cycle.

Would a coach be the best method to resolve this struggle for obtaining the most profitable sales on the farm? Would an individual farmer be open to the idea of getting coaching on how to market? The coach’s purpose is to improve an individual’s performance on the job; would that work for your farm operation?  Would mentoring be a more successful approach to marketing of farm production? Would it be a great idea to talk with another person about your ideas on marketing and they share their experiences on marketing and after discussion, carry out a market plan that has included questioning, thinking, and other ideas to develop and execute the marketing plan?

One of the major differences between being coached and being mentored is the listening that is required to be a quality mentor. In being coached there is little time for asking questions. Good mentors are good listeners and encourage discussion, and allow for reflection and shared experiences. Mentoring allows for the learner to set their own goals. In coaching the goals have been set by the coach.

Are there examples of mentoring programs in the field of production agriculture? In some states grazing groups have worked to establish programs for mentoring young farmers by pairing the young farmer with a more experienced farmer that has practiced grazing.

Some Farm Credits have begun the program Farm Forward Mentorship that pairs young beginning farmers with experienced mentors. The program offers outside training to mentors to obtain greater results from the program, and encourages conversations on business planning, managing risk, and managing day-to-day operations. This additional guidance is aimed at improving the success of the mentorship program.

*This article originally appeared in the Fond du Lac Reporter*