SENECA - The farm crisis is upon us. That’s probably not news to the producers, but to many others the depth of this problem may not be understood yet.
Tammy Olson has been watching the problem grow from her position behind the counter at Olson Feeds in Seneca. She saw it as she looked into the faces of her longtime customers. That positive attitude and chipper demeanor of the farmers has dissolved day by day and month by month.
Overwhelmed by the low agriculture prices and the increasing costs of production with no end in sight, farmers are worried about their economic survival. The normally upbeat customers at Olson’s have grown visibly more depressed over the past six months.
Two customers in particular caught the feed store owner’s attention. The customers always had a smile on their face at Olson’s, but those smiles disappeared and both customers seemed more and more depressed.
The tipping point for Tammy came after she read two stories about the situation—one focused on an increasing rate of suicide among farmers, and the other delivered the news that western Wisconsin was now leading the nation in the number of farm bankruptcies.
“I decided I had to do something,” Tammy said. She posted the story about the farm bankruptcy rate in western Wisconsin on the Olson Feeds Facebook page.
Then, Tammy did something a little out of character—she decided it was time to contact elected officials.
After posting the story of western Wisconsin leading the nation in farm bankruptcies on the Facebook page on January 31, Tammy wrote:
“One of the saddest articles I have ever read. This has to change. I wish I had all the answers. We have been working fervently to help with cost-saving measures, and we will continue to do so, but at some point these prices have to improve. I think for the first time ever in my life I am going to be writing a letter to every Wisconsin politician I can think of and plead for help. Between this article and the one stating how farmer suicides have increased I am not ending my day on a happy note…”
Things took off after that. On Thursday, Feb. 1, Tammy reported that she had been contacted by a representative of U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, who indicated the senator was interested in visiting farms and meeting with local farmers to discuss their concerns and what actions are being taken.
“So I am opening it up to all of you to find out if this would be something of interest,” Tammy wrote on Facebook. “I’m not saying this will solve our problems, but having our voices heard can’t hurt.”
Tammy Olson also contacted Ron Kind, Lee Nerison and Jennifer Shilling, as we all as U.S. Senator Ron Johnson. All except Johnson had responded by Friday, Feb. 9.
Both Wisconsin State Senator Jennifer Shilling and Wisconsin State Representative Lee Nerison confirmed they will attend. U.S. Representative Ron Kind’s office confirmed that if the congressman cannot attend, a representative of his office will attend.
The date of the event has been scheduled for Friday, March 16.
The visiting politicians will begin with a tour of two dairy operations—Steve Achenbach’s farm near Eastman and Dean and Donna Hartley’s farm in rural Soldiers Grove. A public meeting is planned for 1 p.m. at either the Seneca Town Hall or the Gays Mills Community Commerce Building based on the anticipated size of the crowd.
Tammy envisions the meeting as a give-and-take, question-and-answer session between the farmers and the politicians. She wants it to be an exchange of concerns and information about what could be done.
In addition to the politicians, representatives from local lenders, officials from DATCP, FSA officials, representatives from the Milk Marketing Board and others with an interest in the current farm situation are expected to attend.
Tammy Olson would like anyone who has an interest in attending this meeting to contact her by calling the Olson Feed Store at 608-734-3523, so she can start to get a feel for how many people might be coming. You can also email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to let her know you’re planning on attending.
Tammy Olson also wants farmers to know that if they can’t attend, but have questions, those questions can be asked on their behalf.