Crop Tour Day 3

US Farm Bill and Whestine Brothers (Swine Production)

This morning we had the opportunity to hear Kevin Brooks talk to us about the US Farm Bill. Kevin was an extension consultant at the University of Illinois; he is now a private farm consultant. The US Farm Bill was developed during the Great Depression to provide financial assistance to farmers who were struggling due to the excess crop supply. The first farm bill was passed in 1933 and was known as the Agricultural Adjustment Act. That first bill allowed farmers to receive a payment for not growing any crops on sections of their land as well as provided food stamps and the ability to buy the excess grain and store it until a later date.

As I understand, todays farm bill helps farmers during times of harsh climates and bad markets. Todays farm bill has 3 components; the first is the price loss coverage (PLC), the second is the Agriculture Risk Coverage – County (ARC-Co), and the third is the Agriculture Risk Coverage – Individual (ARC-I). The PLC program is based on a set price and if the market drops below that set price farmers are paid based on their yields and total acres. The ARC-Co program works by taking an Olympic average. Which means removing the lowest and highest yields of the past 5 years and paying out the difference between your yields and the county’s historical yields if your revenue falls below the 5-year county average? The ARC – I program is similar to the ARC –Co program except that the program historical average is based on an individual farm and not the county. All three programs have their pros and cons. The PLC program works well in a year where prices are really low such as this year. The ARC – Co works well if on average your farm produces less than the county average consistently and the ARC – I program works well if your farm produces better than the county average consistently. Once a farmer makes a decision on which program they will be apart of they are locked into that program until the next farm bill is passed which is usually 5 years.

In the afternoon we visited the Whestine Brothers, Ed and Larry, who have 11 000 – 12 000 head of hogs that are finished on 1500 acres of cropland every year. Along with the hogs Ed and Larry also have 200 – 250 head of beef cattle. This farm has been in the Whestine family since 1910 and 2 generations have lived and worked on the farm. The Whestine Brothers have 4 finisher barns and 2 nurseries. The hogs once finished are marketed at 272 lbs and are sold to producer livestock, which is a marketing company that sells the hogs on behalf of the farmers. The brothers ship a semi load per week with about 170 head of hogs on the truck. The gestation barns are not on the farm and are instead part of a coop program that has 18 shares total and Ed and Larry helped to organize the COOP. The brothers have 3 shares in this coop and cycle the piglets every 9 weeks from the gestation barn.

Along with having this cost sharing opportunity in the gestation barns the Whestine brothers also have equipment that is cost shared between neighboring farmers too. Small farms cannot always afford to purchase new equipment and equipment and cost sharing is one way for all farmers to benefit in the new technology without breaking their budgets.

In Wellman the county is conservation minded and farmers say that it is better to be proactive than reactive in terms of conservation. On farm there is corn, soybeans, oats and rye grown and they feed all the corn that is grown by grinding it on farm. With conservation practices in mind there is also a manure management program that is followed on farm so as to avoid an environmental incidents. In Wellman you need to have a permit for everything as well as written permission to spread manure on land that is not owned by the farmer himself. Each year you are allowed to cover 1/3 of your total acres with manure. No-till practices are also done when possible.

The theme for today was how the farm bill impacts small producers and cooperatives as well as learning about swine production.

My learning points for the day were about politics of agriculture and the lack of agricultural influences on decisions made for the agricultural sector. My second learning point was about succession planning and how important it is to start conservation early and to have a plan in place. The third learning point was about how similar yet different swine production is in Ontario compared to that of the US. From what I know about swine production, I will admit it is not much, but the biosecurity of Ontario farmers is quite high and the biosecurity on Ed and Larry’s farm was almost non-existent. I can’t say that one system is better than the other but it was interesting to know about Ontario’s biosecurity protocols like showering in and showering out compared to us having free range in and out of Ed and Larry’s barn.

My assessment of today’s visits was that both places were very knowledgeable about their respective topics. Kevin seemed to jump all over the place and at times it was hard to follow what he was talking about but he answered our questions instantly and he did a pretty good job at explaining the farm bill to us, which I was impressed with. Ed and Larry were great to talk too. They were more than willing to answer any of our questions and tried to keep us engaged as much as possible, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

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