Farmers Making a Difference

“How can they make a rule about spreading manure when they haven’t worked with farmers?” the Trempealeau County farmer asked me. These farmers were concerned about water rules being drafted by the Department of Natural Resources and they wanted to make a difference in the final version.

Nearly forty farmers from our Senate district came to Madison last week as part of Ag Day in the Capitol. They came to share their stories and their concerns. They came to make a difference.

A Trempealeau County farmer told me, “You can’t just shove the rules at us without working with farmers.”

“We all want clean water,” another farmer said. “But there are lots of ways to get there. We all need to work together to solve this.”

A Buffalo County farmer explained the DNR wants to eliminate phosphorus in the water, but that it won’t happen. Our soils are naturally higher in phosphorus than the rest of the state. He said data showed phosphorus was higher in the water coming off the wood lands than coming off the field and the department needed to take this into account when they set the rules.

“You’ve got to treat every field differently,” said a Jackson County woman. “Every field has a different slope, different crop rotation, and different drainage.”

She is right. Our terrain is very different than the rest of the state. What might work in the flat lands where every field looks and drains about the same, simply doesn’t work where the fields are small, hilly with unique drainage.

“I want to keep my top soil where it is and the rivers clean,” another Trempealeau famer told me.  “Farmers are the best stewards of the land.  My land has been in my family for seven generations and I want to leave it to my sons.”

Everyone in the group had that special bond with the land, with the field work, with the cows and, in spite of the challenges, they treasure the lifestyle.

Times are tough on the farm and famers are struggling with many things they can’t control. Milk prices have hit record lows and input costs are up. Farmers are struggling to get operating loans for spring seed and fertilizer.

It’s hard to control input costs; harder yet to control farm prices and impossible to control the weather.  At the end of the day, it shouldn’t be impossible to control what the government decides are the rules that affect farmers’ daily operations.

After all, we aren’t talking about Mother Nature; we are talking about our democracy.   

Our democracy can be as volatile as commodity prices and as complicated as controlling nutrient runoff, but it is also of the people, for the people and by the people.  The farmers who came to the Capitol knew democracy works best when ordinary people get involved.  They knew creating rules affecting farmers meant farmers had to be involved in the rule making process. 

Democracy works when ordinary people help shape decisions. By taking the time to come to a hearing, write a letter or make a phone call, rules can be changed and legislation can be strengthened.

The farmers who came to visit knew their work was not finished when the milk house door closed or the shed light was turned off. If agriculture is to stay strong into the next generation, farmers need to stay involved in the legislative process.

I am grateful to all those who set aside their chores for a day and drove to Madison. These farmers wanted to make a difference and indeed they did.