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As Bankruptcies Mount, WI Farmers Urged to Diversify

Wisconsin leads the nation in farm bankruptcies, and outreach experts say diversifying their products can help them survive tough markets. (Morguefile/mensatic)
Wisconsin leads the nation in farm bankruptcies, and outreach experts say diversifying their products can help them survive tough markets. (Morguefile/mensatic)
November 19, 2019

MADISON, Wis. — An outreach center for Wisconsin farmers says they need to focus on diversifying their operations to survive. That message comes as bankruptcy filings continue to mount for farms across the state.

A new report from the American Farm Bureau Federation said Wisconsin had nearly 50 such filings over the 12-month period ending in September. That means Wisconsin is leading the nation in farm bankruptcies.

Margaret Krome is public policy program director for the nonprofit Michael Fields Agricultural Institute. She said the continued struggle underscores the need for farmers to look for specialty products with a strong market, such as artisanal cheeses.

"The investments that were made a decade and a bit more ago to strengthen our specialty yogurts, our specialty cheeses, those have paid off,” Krome said. “And we ought to be reinvesting in new innovations in dairy."

Dairy farmers in particular have been combating a gradual decline in consumption of traditional products. According to federal data, Americans drank around 17 million gallons of milk in 2018 - compared with 24 million in the mid-1990s. And last week, the nation's largest milk company, Dean Foods, filed for bankruptcy.

As farmers look to adapt to different products, Krome said they should be careful about investing in areas that aren't yet proven. For example, she said hemp is viewed as a silver-bullet crop that will save farmers, but there are still a lot of unknowns.

"This is a crop that has not yet been developed in this state, in this region with the new varietals, and we need to develop the kind of varietals that'll be appropriate in this region,” she said.

Krome said farmers should look to small grain crops, which are making a comeback. She says they're good for soil protection, which can help limit losses during wet growing seasons.

Disclosure: Michael Fields Agricultural Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Rural/Farming, Sustainable Agriculture. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - WI