Via FDL Reporter
MOUNT CALVARY – Organic farmers with Organic Valley had the chance to ask U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Glenbeluah) about this year’s farm bill while visiting the Blatz family farm Friday in Mount Calvary.
A fourth-generation farm, Ken and Joanne Blatz are the current owners, with their son Greg, and his wife, Nikki, poised to take over next year. The 200-acre land holds 50 cows, and 40 replacement cows. Growing hay, oats, peas, sudex and little corn, all crops are used to support the livestock.
Touring the farm, the Blatz family showed Grothman where cows are milked. Pointing out the pasture, manure and the installation of its solar panels, the family demonstrated their environmentally friendly practices.
A growing, organic industry
The family joined Organic Valley in 1994 after learning about the possibly deadly effects of pesticides on animals. Based in LaFarge, the co-op is made of 2,000 family farms with members in 36 states, according to Adam Warthesen and Melissa Weyland of Organic Valley.
“Relying on the strength of the existing dairy economy,” said Warthesen, there are 90 different co-packers that process products, and Organic Valley helps to get them certified. One of these is Baker Cheese. Retail items are available at places like Walmart and Woodman’s, and private labeled items are available to clients, such as those who want cream for ice cream, said Warthesen.
Organic is more than not using pesticides — antibiotics are also not used on sick animals. While not many problems with animals arise, homeopathic remedies will be introduced when they do.
Every day, a new lot of pasture is made, which can be done by simply moving a wire, said Joanne Blatz. On the first day, the milking cows will get the lot, and on the next, they will be moved to another, with the dry heifers and cows taking their place. This allows for little feed to be taken from silos in summer but instead saved for the cold months.
Organic rules from both the USDA and Organic Valley are strict, she said. Soils are built up through rototilling, and the Blatzes use hay to get “organic matter” into the soil, with the belief that a healthy soil produces a healthy animal and healthy people.
Once a year, a third-party must come to each organic farm to make sure no prohibited products are used in them and verify its organic status. Records must be kept of minerals and seeds used in fields and inspectors will go through cabinets to make sure there are no chemicals there.
“I would not say it’s easy to get into organic. There’s a learning curve, a transition process … You’re no longer going from this chemically managed system. You now have to manage what’s biological with nature, so it brings its own challenges,” said Weyland.
With such strict regulations to be followed, organic farmers are concerned with farmers from other countries bringing products to the United States which may not be to the standards of the USDA.
“We definitely want organics to stay organic. When I buy organic and it’s certified organic, I know what I’m getting and that’s what I’m looking for,” said Joanne Blatz.
The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate each passed their own version of the farm bill this summer. A focus for organic farmers in the bills was expanding the oversight of the National Organic Programs on imports to be able to “crack down” on “suspected fraudulent imports,” Warthesen said.
As organics become a global industry, farmers who bring in organic foods from other countries can make a large premium. Warthesen said organic milk has a $15 premium over conventional milk.
“I feel like on the organic side, we did pretty good, especially you helped with that bill,” Warthesen said to Grothman. “We feel like those advancements would make a difference.”
Grothman said he understood the issue, and fraudulent imports were addressed in the House bill.
“We have some stuff with regard to making sure we aren’t taken advantage of from foreign actors,” he said.
They were also addressed in the Senate Farm Bill with the Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection act, authored by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), according to Kasey Hampton, press secretary for Baldwin.
Grothman said he would be “a little bit surprised” if the bill coming out the Senate and House conference would pass, prior to the end of September. With work requirements added to food stamp program listed in the bill, he believes it will be held up in the Senate, where bills are more difficult to pass, particularly in an election year where Democrats “are optimistic,” he said.
Farmers discuss trade, immigration
Farmers also addressed trade and immigration issues with Grothman. In regards to the addition of tariffs on goods from Mexico and Canada, one farmer asked why the tariffs targeted two of the country’s largest agricultural exports.
“We’ve been pretty well conditioned here as farmers that the export market is vitally important for farmers,” said Dave Heidel of Random Lake. “Canada is the number one export market for us farmers. Mexico is the third largest. If we’re going to pick a fight, if we’re going to make accusations, you don’t want to do it with your major agricultural export farmers.”
Grothman responded by stating he sometimes believes some of the language used when talking about trade is not that which he would use, particularly with Mexico, but those who work for President Donald Trump hope to add more dairy experts (to assist in making trade decisions).
“It’s important for us to have very good relationships with Mexico and Canada,” he said.
However, he said Mexico could be seen as contributing to the United States’ immigration problems.
“On the other hand, in an unrelated thing, right now Mexico is kind of helping people get here we might not want, and that’s a problem, too,” he said.
On the topic of immigration, another farmer stated that immigrants hold many jobs in their industry, as well as others, like hospitality, and asked who will hold the jobs if immigration is limited. Grothman said that people understand the role they play, and he pointed out that normal visas don’t work with the dairy industry, as workers are needed full time, not part time. However, requirements still need to be there, he said.
“We want every immigrant to be a good immigrant,” he said. “I know very well you need them. I know we need it, but the question is where we’re going to get them and what process are we going to have to go through.”