Terms such as “treading water” and “getting by” and “eating equity” are being used by agricultural economists to sum up 2016. When those same economists look forward to 2017 for agriculture, the terms are more hopeful such as, “2017 is going to feel a bit better” and “innovation” and “expect improvement.”
“We had awesome crop yields this year. Very high corn yields, very high soybean yields, some people are setting their own personal records, some counties will set their own historical records for yields per acre,” says Paul Mitchell, University of Wisconsin-Madison extension ag economist. “But the markets weren’t there, it’s a lot of corn, a lot of soybeans to push through the market and it’s rough for some people even with these really high yields.”
Mitchell is one who is looking at continued innovation in food and beverage industries to help add value to the production of Wisconsin commodities. The model other commodities are eyeing is the development of artisan and specialty cheese and dairy products. Mitchell and a select group of people from extension, UW-Madison, and state businesses will be on hand at the annual Wisconsin Agricultural Outlook Forum Jan. 19.
“When you produce a commodity product you only make a little bit for each unit you produce,” Mitchell says. “If you can make an artisanal cheese and sell the same number of pounds, you’re getting a much thicker margin that means more income staying in the state.”
UW-Madison agronomist, Bill Tracy points to the development of “baby carrots” as an innovation that helped expand the market for carrots. The processed baby carrots added convenience to a commodity and the market responded by eating more carrots.
“A lot of us are looking for the new baby carrot for snap beans or sweet corn,” Tracy says. “We’re working on a sweet corn that does not need to be cooked. With this new sweet corn, you can just peel the husks back and eat the sweet corn.”
As for Wisconsin’s venerable dairy business, Mark Stephenson, UW-Madison extension dairy policy analyst, says the export market for dairy products is likely the key to improved milk prices for 2017. He expects exports to begin to increase as the New Year wears on. “I don’t expect to see anything dramatic until we’re about half way through the year,” Stephenson says. “I think 2016 for dairy farmers is one of those years where you say, ‘I’m glad it’s behind me, I’m ready to move on,’ and I think that 2017 is going to feel a little bit better.”
The financial health of Wisconsin’s farms and agricultural business and emerging issues and opportunities are topics for the upcoming Wisconsin Agricultural Outlook Forum on Thursday, Jan. 19 on the UW-Madison campus. The event is sponsored by UW-Madison, UW-Extension, Wisconsin Farmers Union and Wisconsin Farm Bureau and features both academic and business leaders.
The 2017 forum runs from 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. in Varsity Hall II at Union South, 1308 West Dayton Street, Madison. The program, organized by the UW-Madison’s Renk Agribusiness Institute, starts with presentations on the status of Wisconsin’s farm economy, including the current situation and price outlooks for dairy, corn and soybeans as well as farm income and input costs.
Lunch is set for 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. and includes a brief update on D2P (Discovery to Product program) efforts to commercialize agricultural innovations discovered and developed on the UW-Madison campus.
The expanded afternoon program includes two expert panels. The first panel covers current trends and broad challenges facing the state and agricultural businesses. The second panel focuses on key agricultural industries in the state – meat, dairy and vegetable processing and fermented foods and beverages. The mixed panel of industry and academic experts will discuss past innovation successes in these industries and the potential for public/private collaborations to help address these challenges. Registration closes Jan. 12. The registration fee of $20.00 covers both the lunch and the Forum.
For a more detailed agenda and to register, visit: http://agoutlook.cals.wisc.edu/.