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Farm Bill, Energy, and Health Care Getting Buzz at WI Farm Convention

February 2, 2007

At the annual Wisconsin Farmers' Union convention this weekend in Onalaska, the hot topics will be biofuels, farmers' health care, and the new Farm Bill being considered by Congress. The get-together begins on the heels of the U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns' announcement of the 2007 Farm Bill proposals. Union President Sue Beitlich says so far, they appear to spell trouble for the state's dairy farmers.

"We're disappointed in the extreme cuts that the Bush administration wants to make to our M.I.L.C. program, which is the 'safety net' program for dairy farmers. When prices fall to low levels, this kicks in."

Beitlich also feels the federal proposal falls short in terms of renewable energy funding, something that is a priority for many farmers.

State Senator Kathleen Vinehout, also a farmer in Buffalo County, is speaking at the conference. She adds another major issue for Wisconsin farmers is finding affordable health care. She suggests overhauling the state's health care system to allow small businesses to participate in larger, insurance-buying pools.

"Farmers are either self-employed or they have a very small group of employees, and the way the whole system is set up works against people who are self-employed."

Jamie Derr with Great Lakes BioFuels says crop-based energy is a growth industry, and Wisconsin farmers are eager to learn more about it, both for the environment and as a way to add value to their businesses.

"Most of them are familiar with corn-based ethanol, but crops like soybeans and canola have better long-term potential, especially for small- and mid-sized farms."

Rob Ferrett/Jamie Folsom, Public News Service - WI