By Julia Debes
For an audio file, visit www.kansaswheat.org.
Four Kansas wheat farmers took center stage during the 2015 Risk & Profit Conference August 20 to 21, 2015 to share stories of farming and farm policy with fellow producers, extension specialists and agricultural economists from across the state.
The Kansas State University Department of Agricultural Economics organized the annual conference, now in its 20th year, to provide agricultural decision makers with information on contemporary agricultural management topics. More than 265 people attended the conference in Manhattan.
Syracuse in the Spotlight
Kansas Wheat Commissioner Jason Ochs from Syracuse answered questions from Eric Atkinson with the K-State Radio Network and conference attendees on August 20. Ochs talked about his nontraditional path back to the family farm, including an enlistment in the Army, working in financial services in Kansas and Colorado before moving home to Syracuse to work for Skyland Grain as an agronomy manager. In 2011, he started farming full-time with part-time assistance from his brother. To help finance newer equipment, advanced technology and land purchases, Ochs custom farmed for farmers as far as 60 miles away.
“For Hamilton County, I am an early adopter,” he said. “I have tried to keep things as lean as possible with as little debt as possible.”
Ochs described the remarkable reversal in rainfall in Hamilton County, reporting his farm has received 24 inches of rainfall in the last 12 months, compared to 12 inches total the prior three years. Despite additional rainfall, Ochs stated that just 30 percent of wheat acres in his area were harvested this year due to wheat streak mosaic virus. To make matters worse, some producers left wheat standing in the field as a cover crop. That could potentially affect next year’s crop. Ochs said he joined organizations like the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers to help voice concerns on issues like disease management as well as keep track of legislation involving farm regulations.
Farm Bill and Foreign Policy
Three other Kansas farmers participated in a post-lunch panel discussion on August 21, moderated by USDA Kansas Farm Service Agency (FSA) Executive Director Adrian Polansky: David Schemm, Sharon Springs; Paul Penner, Hillsboro; and Ron Suppes, Dighton.
Suppes, Kansas Wheat Commissioner and Kansas representative on the board of U.S. Wheat Associates, opened by urging producers to share how farm programs benefit more than just the farm, but the entire rural economy around the farm and consumers themselves.
“We need to encourage people that in order to have a sustainable food program, you need a healthy farm economy,” Suppes said. “Crop insurance is more of a rural sustainability assurance.”
Suppes also discussed the importance of the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program, two USDA efforts that match producer funding to promote U.S. exports overseas. Suppes said that more commodities are vying for the money in the highly effective programs, warranting an increase in funding.
Schemm continued the policy discussion by emphasizing the importance of working with other agricultural groups and influencers as the U.S. Congress prepares to position the next Farm Bill in 2018.
“We have to reach across the line and build those coalitions as we work towards the next Farm Bill,” Schemm said. “It is absolutely critical.”
Schemm said he will likely have a front row seat for those negotiations. He currently serves as treasurer of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), meaning he will still be involved in leadership at the national level when the current Farm Bill programs expire.
Penner finished his term as NAWG president in March and now serves as immediate past president. He reiterated that national policy can have a large influence on returns home on the farm, especially when it comes to opening up new markets like Cuba.
“It is a real opportunity and it takes some real leadership to move forward on that issue,” he said.
Learn and Adapt
All four Kansas wheat farmers embodied the key agricultural decision makers targeted by the conference. Each also answered questions from the audience and provided additional insight into how they have grown their operations and influence agricultural policy over time.
Ochs perhaps said it best when he emphasized that he would not trade the farm for his previous careers, even though the last few years have proven difficult.
“There is nothing like rural life,” he said. “The lifestyle is wonderful.”
For more information on the 2015 Risk & Profit Conference, visit http://agmanager.info/events/risk_profit/2015/default.asp.