Tuesday, December 25, 2007

FSA flood insurance!

Last week I met with head of Wisc FSA, Ben Brancel and his #1, Russ Raeder and Wisconsin Department of Ag, Laura Paine and #1 in my eyes, Will Hughes. Will has some connection with Ben, Will had read my analyses and understood it, he directed the meeting. True to form as government employees, Russ and Ben digressed and passed the buck to Washington! Will took down names, 'Who do I talk to?' Price!, needs a big change, Unharvested factor! off by at least 50%, planting periods!, I think Russ and Ben flinched, after all they have had since 2000 to get them right!, I wrote them in 2004 and went home and rewrote them in the exact table they use, all they have to do is click send! Maybe there is some hope on this one for 2007 disaster application!, about $20,000 difference if they get it right this time! That is about all I can do.

I am holding out hope that Will can pull some strings! Will and family were original 1993 CSA members and had a pick-up site at their house for many years and has since moved up the ladder at Wisc DATCP and totally gets it! He made it clear that this is not only about HVF, but this is a good test case. If it does not work here, then it does not work for anybody!

There are two options being considered, if this fails, #1, get at least 500 CSA families to e-mail the government officials and demand they do their job! (A bit of insight!, the FSA officer who is doing my low interest emergency loan appl. told me that his predecessor and himself have given so few loans that the taxpayer would be better served if USDA just gave away some grants to those in need, rather than paying all these big salaries to employees who do not make any loans or payments for disasters) .

Or to digress further, but maybe quite accurate. Why do tax payers allow government employees to work in the interest of big business, rather than to protect citizen taxpayers, ie, FDA approval of drugs without sufficient studies, FDA and USDA approve untested GMO crops for the sole benefit of Monsanto, without protecting the public! It is about to happen again with a GMO sugar beet which will pollute most of the remaining food supply. They got corn and soybeans which make up 70% of food products and now with GMO sugar there will be no conventional food left that does not have some dangerously untested GMO component, they win, the consumer losses and the Goverment officials who are responsible for a safe food supply have completed the sell out!

Have to send a note to Ronnie Cummings, Organic Consumers Union, thought he had this GMO beet covered, but the CEO of Crystal Sugar just did a 180 turn, I wonder? Did they threaten his family or just offer money or both?

Anyway, got home from the FSA meeting and had a message that the 'Sow the seeds fund' was sending a $37,000 check, we do know who our friends are! So that leaves us at squeaking by, still in business, a fair FSA insurance payment would mean business as usual, employee raises, replace broken equipment, fix stream bank wash-outs, etc. Richard

Monday, December 24, 2007

Note to Self

  • Don't enter the cow's pasture empty handed, especially if they are hungry and you are wearing a red hat

  • You can't run very fast when you're wearing snowshoes in 6 inches of powder

This afternoon I wanted to check on the cow's hay because it looked kind of low in the feeder (from a distance). I usually work in the office but I am more than happy to bring buckets of food to the animals on the weekends or other days off - I am in charge of the animals for only a couple days a month. The feeder is across the creek from the bunker (what I like to call their table) where I put their delicious organic grain.

(okay, okay, I'm trying to sell you some beef. We still have beef for sale. They are rotationally grazed, finished on organic grain. Buy some! Here! Next delivery in January!)

So I decided to walk over across the water in my snowshoes for a look-see at the feeder, 'cos Richard said Dan had put 10 bales of hay in the feeder the other day, but I thought it looked low (from a distance).

As I opened the gate, the cows came close 'cos they know me as good for feed by now. I used to think it was cute how they scampered around like puppies when I came in with buckets of food. I bypassed the "table" and they followed me across the creek. There are definitely leaders and followers with these cows. The first two led the way across the creek, right behind me, while the others followed more slowly. Then the slow ones paused. I stepped to the side and I tried to coax them on because I didn't really want to follow them too close behind, much less cross their path. But they stopped. So I crossed behind two, ahead of four cows. I kept telling them that it wasn't lunch time, I was just checking in, look - no bucket of food, but they kept advancing. I made a wide berth around the feeder 'cos it was very poopy and I could see clearly that it wasn't very full of hay. They sped up and #13 gave me the eye. She pawed the ground, looked at my head/red hat and kicked up her heels!

(This is that same feeder, found down stream, after the flood.)

As I made my wide berth, I realized I was right next to another food bunker and I had no food! The cows kept coming! I kept thinking about how bears and dogs can smell fear and tried to remain calm as I made my way to the next fence, about 25 feet away (which I think, I hope, is electric). As I said, one cannot run wearing snow shoes in six inches of powder. I moved as quickly as I could and I rolled under the fence and the cows kept coming. As I walked away from the fence (way more slowly than I would have liked), I saw #13 sniffing the wire & under the wire and make the wise decision to not try to follow. I ended up taking the long way home, across the creek again & across the fields. It took me almost an hour!

Richard and I went out later to give the cows some hay & that was another (reluctant) adventure. He pushed 8 bales out of the barn & we piled them into the bucket of the skid steer (like a Bobcat or Mustang - a machine with a fork or a bucket for carrying stuff. Ours has chains on the back wheels now, for getting around in the snow). I met him Richard at the gate & reluctantly got on top of the bales for the trip/ride to the feeder. (I didn't want to walk with the cows!) The snow was very, perhaps unexpectedly, deep & Richard struggled up the creek bank while I hung on for dear life, with cows looking on. OMG I was so scared!

We got to the feeder bin & I had to cut the rope binding the bales & pile it into the feeder below. The cows were at it in no time. I was still up in the skid steer bucket when I took this pic.

I'm scared of the cows now. Kinda like the goats - never turn your back. Don't laugh! I'm a city girl. This is all so very new to me.

Merry Xmas & Happy New Year!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Billy the Boer Goat

We got ourselves a stud! We're gonna have kids in the spring!
Look at his beard blowing in the wind. We just put him in our pasture last night, so our other goats are still hesitant but very curious. We borrowed him from a neighbor and will return him in the spring. He is a lovely animal and we were assured that he wouldn't be too wild or cause trouble or jump fences.I'll be taking care of the animals over the holidays and Richard gave me this advice: Do not turn your back on an intact male. If you let your guard down that would be the moment they decide to give you head butt/nudge right at the knees. And down I'd go in the poopy snow.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Winter is Here/FSA Payments

We had our first winter snow storm this Saturday. My first winter in the valley! It really is lovely but kind of scary. Richard drove to the Madison indoor Farmer's Market at Monona Terrace (RIP Otis Redding) and José and Margo had CSA deliveries that day. It started snowing mid-morning and visibility and the roads were crap! Andrea and I were home, here at the farm, and tried to convince both Richard & José to stay in Madtown, but they both insisted they'd be careful y despacio, and get home that night. I was so glad to see them (José and Margo much later than Richard)! We're expecting another couple inches today. I moved into the farmhouse just in time, I think! (the first cabin is mine, the upper is Glen's - electricity but no water)

Richard has been working on getting a fair payment from the FSA for our crop losses from the flood this summer. This is a letter and table he sent to the Vernon County FSA, Russ Raeder at the state FSA, and to the Wisconsin Deptarment of Agriculture. If you click on the picture of the table it should enlarge - it's all very interesting, but pay special attention to the last 3 columns: 2007 HVF Loss ($/Acre), FSA Payment ($/Acre), and FSA Payment: % of Actual Loss. FSA payments are incredibly low!

Being certified organic involves good record keeping, so Richard has very good records on all he's grown over the years - yields, prices and planting periods. I think he makes a great case for making changes in how the FSA calculates payments:

Comparative Analysis of Market Crop Values to Actual FSA Payments

Compiled By Richard de Wilde, Harmony Valley Farm

I have been farming in southwest Wisconsin since 1985. I grow certified organic produce on 100 acres of land that I sell to the fresh market. Half of my sales are to wholesale markets, with the other half of sales to retail markets including farmer’s market and our large CSA. In August of this year we experienced excessive rainfall resulting in devastating flooding in our valley that damaged and destroyed over 45 acres of crops as well as prevented planned plantings. I filed crop loss claims with NAP and have received 14 payment calculations from FSA thus far. The NAP policy is supposed to pay 27.5% of losses, however these 14 payment calculations only average 2.17% of Harmony Valley Farm’s (HVF) actual loss for these crops. If the remaining crop calculations are similar, I will receive $16,000 on a $750,000 loss. With a discrepancy this great, it is obvious that there is something really wrong here! My assumption is that the individuals associated with implementing the NAP program are well-meaning and want to work with farmers to make this program functional with an efficient process for filing and paying claims that will benefit and help the farmers who rely on this program. With this assumption in mind, I would like to outline some of the problems with the current NAP program from my perspective as a farmer. Please refer to the accompanying chart which will help demonstrate some of the problems.


Please take a look at the crop value section on the chart, expressed in “dollars per pound.” I have been told that the FSA crop table uses the AMS fresh market price at the Chicago terminal. The crop table values are based on AMS prices taken from 120 days prior to the application closing date (March 15, 2007). Using AMS data from November 1, 2006, I found that the FSA crop table prices are only 29% of the AMS prices. How can this be? There are also obvious errors, such as “Green Baby French” beans are priced the same on the FSA table as the regular green beans when the AMS prices show a 214% higher price for this variety. There are serious problems with the FSA crop table when this sampling shows FSA prices are on average only 29% of the AMS prices when I would expect them to match. The issue is actually much worse than this!

The HVF average prices from 2006 are 158% higher than AMS prices. Yes, some of that is a premium for “certified organic production,” but much more so it reflects the fact that half of HVF production is sold at retail prices while AMS and FSA crop values are based on wholesale market price. Retail prices are 100% higher than wholesale, a standard practice in the produce industry. To pay only wholesale prices may work for businesses who only sell to wholesale markets, but the reality is that most produce growers sell some or all of their product to retail markets. Thus, the current FSA practice is discriminatory against direct market produce growers.

A more reasonable practice would be to use a price that more closely matches the individual farmer’s market situation. FSA already uses an individual farmer’s yields (APH) to figure crop values, thus why not extend the practices to use an individual farmer’s prices as well. In the very least, figure payments using a scale that matches a farmer’s actual market breakdown where crops are sold instead of assuming all sales are made at a wholesale market price. NAP rules include ‘local markets’ in the list of price sources.


As stated previously, NAP policy is supposed to pay 27.5% of loss when the loss exceeds 50%. This percentage is based on paying 55% of losses over 50% of the total. So, payment is already being based on a much lower amount than the actual loss. If a farmer has a total loss on a crop—now FSA is going to decrease payment further by calculating in an unharvested factor (FSA value assigned to costs that would have been incurred had the crop been harvested). Their rationale for this is that costs associated with harvest are decreased or eliminated if a crop is lost. Where do these numbers come from? Are they based on records of harvest costs? If so, whose records were they and when were they gathered? While I do not feel an adjustment factor for harvest costs is even warranted, if it must be there it should at least be an accurate value.

I have included the HVF labor cost per pound for harvest and calculated a harvest factor cost based on our known harvest costs. I derived these values from time studies that have been done on my farm to establish labor costs for my own business use. You can see that the HVF harvest factor is 177% greater than the average FSA unharvested factor and hence would increase a 100% loss payment substantially.

Also, though many of the crops appeared to be a total loss initially, in many cases there was a higher part of the field that recovered and we were able to harvest some crop that went to market, so we have some production to report. Both the assessor and the Vernon County office advised me to ask the State FSA office for permission to change those crops from zero production to harvested. Reporting production would remove the unharvested factor for those crops initially assessed to be total loss. Regardless, the fact still remains that the unharvested factor numbers as they are now are a serious impediment to this program working effectively.


The NAP handbook has clear provisions for establishing planting periods for crops that are planted multiple times during a growing season. The majority of vegetable crops are in this multiple planting category. It is absolutely essential and necessary for planting periods to be established for NAP to work! This was evident in 2003 when I applied for a drought disaster for 4 acres of beets planted for fall harvest and storage. When that loss was combined with our good spring beet crop, the loss was only 50% and payment was zero. FSA refused to establish planting periods for that loss.

In December 2004 Russ Raeder asked me to write planting periods for all vegetables. I submitted them on January 4, 2005 and they were reviewed by Karen Delahout, vegetable specialist for the University of Wisconsin. As a result, a few planting periods were established, but two years later there are still more than 40 crops from the NAP list that we grow that do not have established planting periods! I wrote the planting periods without compensation, providing FSA with all the information needed to do the right thing. I did my part, but it is the responsibility of FSA employees and committees to implement them.

The NAP insurance program is a workable program as catastrophic insurance if, and only if, it is administered properly. It has not been so. There are still serious errors in final plant dates, price, unharvested factor and planting periods, that when combined make a $100,000 difference in my loss payment. This may be the difference between being able to continue farming or not. I would like to see FSA take responsibility for making the necessary and long overdue changes needed to make the NAP program an efficient, manageable, fair and reasonable insurance program that will actually benefit farmers who are invested in growing food necessary to feed and sustain our families and communities. I have followed through on my end of the deal and expect the government representatives to do the same. I am not satisfied with hearing “We will try to get it right for next year!” Changes need to be made, not in the future, but NOW for 2007.