WI Voices: A Family Farmer

WI Voices: A Family Farmer

The Shafer Family

 

Watch a clip of John Shafer’s interview HERE.

 

Farmer John Shafer is a rare breed.  Along with his wife, Jenny, and young daughter, they live on a 4th generation, small farm in Spring Valley.  John spoke with us while he completed his morning chores.  He fed a calf a bottle, cleaned and operated various pieces of machinery, and let the cows out into the pasture.  He had stories about many of the dozen or so half-wild cats peeking out from behind walls and bales of hay.  We followed John as he explained that his property has been passed down from generation to generation, beginning with his great-grandfather who bought the land in 1915.  In a few short years, the Shafer’s land will be deemed a “Century Farm”.  This recognition both inspires and taunts John.  He not only is struggling to hold onto his farm in the face of corporate interests, but he also wonders how his children will be able to continue this fading way of life.  

 Here’s his story.

________________

How will Walker’s policies affect your dairy farm?

The biggest thing that I am scared of is the shifting of taxes from the upper class to the lower and middle class.  That is what really bothers me.  There was no tax cuts for us, it was all to the rich, and it shifted the burden onto us. 

It also bothered me that they put in that legislation that they could sell state-owned property with no bids.  Well, that kind of hit home for me, because I bought a haybine from the college [University of Wisconsin - River Falls] and I had to make a bid on it along with everybody else.  I was surprised that I won the bid because I only paid $2300 for it, but everyone else was bidding only $200-$300 for it.  Well, Walker is trying to make it so The Kochs, or whoever, don’t have to pay fair market value for state property. [Because UWRF is a state owned institution, Walker’s policies could allow a corporate farm to purchase this piece of equipment with a no-bid contract at a much lower price.]

Another thing that bothers me is that there are a lot of farmers on BadgerCare, because most farmers cannot afford to get regular insurance.  One neighbor lost his BadgerCare and he got into an accident and his ear got partially cut off.  The ambulance people were saying, “You gotta go to the hospital.”  And he said, “Just stitch me up here, I don’t have insurance.”

Then, there is the program on the chopping block called PACE (Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements). Walker is basically saying that we need to develop more land.  (It could affect me because) I want to find ways to preserve my land for the next generation.  And if we have continued urban sprawl, then there is no other options for small farmers than to sell.  My great-grandfather bought this back in 1915.  So, that has kinda given me the urge to try to stick this out.  But it is a lot of work, and all people, like me, are asking for is a chance, and to make a reasonable profit.  We’re not asking to be millionaires, but we’ve been lied to. 

I support Shelly Moore because she didn’t sell herself out to agribusiness.  Sheila Harsdorf did.  Ten years ago there was a bill that was being tried in the state legislature that was called “The Family Farm Protection Act.”  Sheila Harsdorf, instead of supporting family farms and standing up for family farms and for this bill, stood by agribusiness.  When I heard her do that, I thought – she is not there for the family farmer.

Some people support Sen. Harsdorf for social issues such as being Pro-Life.  And I’ve said to people, “Harsdorf is not Pro-Life, the Republican Party is not Pro-Life…they are Pro-Birth.”  If they were truly Pro-Life they would be interested in feeding the child, clothing the child, educating the child, providing health care for the child.  That’s what it should mean to be Pro-Life.

I’m not pro-life, I’m not pro-choice. 

(The problem for farmers is that the) Pro-Choice groups will say, something “is not alive until it takes its first breath.”  Well I’ve had to deliver a calf because the mother is having complications.  I’ve had to put on a long glove and reach inside to help.  I’ve had a calf suck my fingers.  You will have a hard time explaining to farmers that (the calf) is not alive. 

You have said that you are looking for ways to be able to pass this farm down to future generations.  What will enable you to do that John?

 That’s a very good question, and I don’t know what all the answers are.  It does not help when Gov. Walker and Sen. Harsdorf have given government tax money to all these corporate farms.  They are giving million dollar grants, not loans, grants – for people to expand into these mega-farms.  I’m too small of an operation to qualify for any of these programs.  Plus, Spring Valley used to have 2 feed mills, but now they’ve been forced out of business because there is no farmers to patronize.  Corporate farms don’t spend local, they buy bulk elsewhere.

(If corporate farms are in financial trouble) they are told to just file bankruptcy.  A lot of these huge factory farms have 3 or 4 different corporations within them.  One owns the cattle, one owns the machinery, one owns the real estate, and sometimes one owns the buildings.  But there is one farmer who owns 26 different of these things.  The only reason I can stay in farming is because this has been passed from one generation to the next.  Some young man or woman who wanted to start farming – there is no way they could afford it.  There is no way they could even think about starting something like this.

I hope the next generation, my children’s generation, can take over, but they are going to need help.  They’re going to have to hope that the progressives and the Democrats actually stand up and help the “little guys” out.  I’m not just talking about farming communities – I’m talking all areas of labor.  I need help modernizing my facilities….a parlor would be nice…newer equipment would be nice.  My newest tractor is 23-years-old. 

So, big corporate farms are given grants and also given ways to modernize their equipment and small farmers are not.  Why do you think that is?

There is powerful influence by agribusiness.  There are groups pretending to be farm groups when they are really masquerading as agribusiness like The Dairy Business Association, The Farm Bureau, and The National Corn Growers Association.  Their opposite groups are pro-farmer, like WI Farmer’s Union and The American Corn Growers Association, and oppose Gov. Walker’s awful legislation.  When you have media that is owned by big business and agribusiness you only hear one side of the story.  They were telling farmers like me that producing ethanol from the corn was going to be great for the farmers.  I was one of the guys who thought that ethanol was maybe not one of the best ideas… because you are taking food out of the food chain and turning it into fuel and it may not be one of the most efficient ways to make fuel. 

Some of the farm cooperatives are afraid of challenging big business; sometimes I think it is the fear of retaliation.  Some of the creameries wanted to restrict BHT hormone coming into their food.  (They were) threatened with lawsuits if farmers weren’t allowed to use hormones.

Sometimes I am afraid of speaking out, because I have a family now that I’ve got to worry about.  But I’ve got to say something, because all sides need to be heard. This is a culture that is worth preserving.  My biggest fear is that if all small farms disappear in the next 5-10 years, we are going to see price gouging at the grocery stores that none of us will even imagine. 

What would you need for your farm to survive long-term?

Stable milk prices.  Supply control.  Paying what it costs to make milk plus a little profit to keep our equipment working and get some hired help.  Plus, food safety issues (need to be considered). 

We need to have a fair price and a fair wage – something that keeps up with the pace of inflation…so we can buy new equipment and have time with our families.  We’re not asking to be multi-millionaires.

Small family farmers are afraid of failing, so we are concerned with sustainability.  Some of the big corporate farmers can just walk away. 

It sounds like you are saying that there needs to be some kind of balance between government intervention and absolute free market.  Would that be a fair statement?

 That is very fair.  Just as I told two Walker supporters in the community, there has to be a balance between union interests and interests of the corporation.  But it doesn’t make sense to me that you can be upset if you think unions threaten people but it is ok for corporations and rich people to threaten to leave the state.  It can’t be that way.  Everybody has to give and take a little bit.  But the last 30 years one group has had to give too much.  And what has it done for us?  It hasn’t done any good.  I fear for my daughter’s future.  She’s a very bright young lady, but if we keep gutting everything there isn’t going to be a future for her or any child.

_________________

All four of my grandparents grew up on farms, but only one couple continued that lifestyle as adults.  That couple had 6 children, of which only two continued farming.  I grew up on one of those small family farms.  Now, there isn’t a farmer left among us.  As I followed John around amidst the familiar smells of fresh hay and the thin layer of brown dust that settles quietly on every surface, I understood his dilemma.  Does he continue to struggle for a treasured way of life that is deeply embedded in his lineage?  Or does he succumb to mounting pressure and begin a new chapter for his family?  Wisconsinites have to ponder the same question.  But for today, John is speaking out for this Wisconsin tradition, ”I hope the next generation, my children’s generation, can take over, but they are going to need help…This is a culture that is worth preserving.” 

 

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15 Responses to WI Voices: A Family Farmer

  1. just another farm girl says:

    Very good, very very good story, I feel his pain. I watch my brother on our family farm, and wonder how much longer he’ll keep banging his head against the wall.
    He has the same sentiments as John. And yes, to smell fresh cut hay, or even eau de poop, can bring back a flood of memories, most all good!

  2. Wizconie says:

    And yet farmers have had it better than ever the past few years. The highest milk prices, grain prices, meat prices of all time have also led to record profits for farmers. John, you’re just plain wrong.

  3. KTinWI says:

    Yes, Wizconie, for big agribusiness. Did you actually read this article?

    A very powerful article. Hope family farmers are paying attention. Sheila is not on their side.

  4. a farmer's wife says:

    Farmers are not making the profits. Higher prices for all the inputs such as seed, fuel and just trying to repay all the bills when milk was at an all time low, There is no such thing as a profit when you have a family farm. Kiddos to John and all his fellow farmers who work long hours with no set pay. A stable milk price would help the situation.

  5. Larry K says:

    This is a great article. It’s time for the public to realize that there is a union out there not interested in the middle-class. It’s the union of corporations, banks, and big moneyed interests that pour money into the political system to empower their self interests.

    For two generations the public has been to conditioned to believe that if like-skilled people assemble to influence the system for fair wages and the ability to provide for their health and retirement they are SOCIALIST. They are thugs. They are anti-American.

    The public has also been conditioned to believe that when the large corporate interests assemble as a “union” to protect their assets of land and capital and to provide the lowest wage, or even no wage, it is the highest form of virtue.

    Members of the corporate elite in agribusiness, banking and manufacturing, etc. quietly pour money into ALEC , Freedom Works and other corporate union organizations. These elite sit on each others board of directors and communicate their desires for less consumer protection, permission to emit more pollution, and acquire government contracts. They do this through COLLECTIVELY coordinating their desires through high powered lobbyists and attorneys.

    Their are two types of unions. Labor Unions: unAmerican, shady, socialist, bullies and bad guys. Corporate Unions: unseen as a union, All- American, virtuous, in the spirit of the founding fathers, to be thanked for permitting the worker to work.

    This is the American way. Should two or three plumbers assemble to grieve for a dental plan? Well I guess we’re on the road to communism.

  6. Wizconie says:

    KT, I read the article. What I read was a guy wanting to go back to the failed govt supply and price controls of the 70′s and 80′s. You really think only big agribusiness is making money farming? I know several family farms that for their first time ever are easily clearing 6 figure incomes the past couple years. If this guy wants the family farm to survive the answer is to adapt to the market, not govt regulations. Maybe he needs to diversify into other lines like increasing or adding cash grain sales or beef, instead of relying only on milk sales. It’s not up to the govt and the rest of us through taxes and regulations to make sure this guy survives. It’s up to him to develop a business that fits the current and future market that is continually changing.
    This guy also likes to bash Sen Harsdorf for past votes. I’d lke to know how much Shelley Moore actually knows about farming.

  7. Avatar of alec says:

    Man, a lot of conjecture in that post, wiz. Just because you, allegedly, know a couple farmers doesn’t give you the right to blanket statement other small family farmers.

    Wis said, “Maybe he needs to diversify into other lines like increasing or adding cash grain sales or beef, instead of relying only on milk sales. It’s not up to the govt and the rest of us through taxes and regulations to make sure this guy survives.” Maybe he already does those things, wiz? Its up to government and “the rest of us through taxes and regulations” to make sure “this guy” and other (people) like him are not snuffed out by big corporate interests.

    Wiz, have you noticed the only ones chirping about government and regulations are those that benefit financially be less government and regulations? Why would that be? Big banks FINALLY have been made to quit gouging us for debit card transactions. Even though it cost 12 cents per swipe, banks charged 44 cents, with that tidy little profit per transaction passed off on consumers. Government stepped in and said enough was enough and regulated the amount they can gouge us per swipe. The banks get a reasonable profit and we get to keep a couple bucks to keep food on the table. Although you might be mad about that as a big bank CEO, 99% of us benefit by that REGULATION.

    The Affordable Care Act will soon save all of us more by regulating what insurance companies and big pharma companies can charge us. How much is health care now, wiz? Do you think insurance companies and big pharma companies are gouging the living heck out of us? The answer’s yes! Sometimes government HAS to step in when the (people) are being hammered by big business.

    11,000 family farmers lose BadgerCare because of Walker & Harsdorf, and you cheer about it all the to the very same banks that are kicking the heck out of us in “fees.” ank. The selfish are taking over, people, and the only thing we can do is vote for people over profits. Shelly Moore.

    • Wizconie says:

      No that’s not the only thing you can do. You can take a good look at things and decide how to make this system work for you rather than try to change it to your liking. The voters spoke very clearly last Nov that govt increased regulation and govt spending was not the path forward. The voters will do the same Aug 9th. My advice would be to quit crying about how unfair things are and look for ways to take care of yourself.
      You say 11,000 farmers lose Badger care, but many of them may have now increased their incomes to a point that they no longer qualify and that’s a bad thing? In your world everything would be great as long as no one was rich. Well get over it. Those who have more usually earn it through hard work, risk taking, and some good fortune. In this farmers case his parents and grandparents left him something. I suppose we should make laws that prohibit all of these – that’s exactly what you call for with the banks and insurance companies. And no one should leave something to their kids without the state taking most of it in taxes, right daminal? This guy wouldn’t even have a farm under your tax scheme.
      Back to farming. This guy wants price and supply regulated by the govt. All that has done in the past is make it so farmers never make good money, just look at the 80′s. Increased markets including ethanol have give us the best farm prices in history. Yes the markets have been volatile but tools are out there to curb this and limit risk if one chooses. If this guy wants stable prices maybe he should forward contract some of his milk now that prices are high it would limit his risk. My point is that it’s up to him to make it work, not us.
      And again Shelly Moore knows what about farming?
      waiting….waiting…

  8. retired dairy farmer says:

    Get the honey wagon out, there’s enough manure in this article to fill it. Mr Shafer is entitled to his opinions, but he’s got a bunch of facts wrong.

    Farmers got a huge tax break a number of years ago with the change to use value assessment for property tax. Most farmers don’t worry about paying taxes. Expenses and “paper” depreciation and tax credits usually wipe out income tax liability. Paying social security taxes can be a challenge though. Wished Mr Shafer would have been specific about what taxes are being shifted onto his shoulders. If he’s got income tax problems maybe he should look into accrual method instead of cash basis. After I retired I sold some land, tax guy said he brought the NOL forward and I didn’t pay any income tax. Asked him if everything was legal, he said yes, now I’ve got some retirement money.

    Interesting Mr Shafer says they put in legislation that they COULD sell state-owned property with out bids. Doesn’t say they ARE or HAVE TO.

    Wished the writer or Mr Shafer had defined “corporate farm”. There was an article in the Agriview about a St Croix Co farm family a while back where the farm was expanding to accommodate the 3 kids that want to farm. I think that was a corporation or LCC. Does that make them bad? Usually the lawyer or accountant wants the change from sole proprietorship to corp or LLP for legal or accounting purposes. A lot of families have incorporated there farms, or neighbor farmers have joined together so they could have a better quality of life by spreading the work over more people. Are they so evil? Not my way of farming, but it keeps cows in the barn.

    Ms Herron is kinda a dishonest writer. The wife says she links articles from Feb. and March about proposed changes to Badger care and Pace. (wife-Truth is there is an article on the WI Farm Union website titled: WFU Applauds Preservation of PACE Program, Buy Local, Buy WI Program, may 23 2011.) Wife also found health saving accounts became deductible for farmers earlier this year and says that badger care program allows for farmers income and expenses. The state has had a tax credit program for a while for updating dairy and livestock facilities, its open to farms of all size and wife says Walker signed a bill making that possible until 2017. FSA programs don’t exclude small farms, they even have programs for beginning farmers. Wife said she looked it up, Mr Shafer gets federal subsidy money to.

    I finally got to the good part, where Mr Shafer says he supports Shelly Moore because she didn’t sell herself out to agribisness. Wife went on Moore’s website, and found out she has nothing to do with farming, so how can she sell out? She does claim waiting tables and managing a bait business gave her business experience. Reminds me of a niece that would spend a couple of summer weeks on the farm when my brother visited telling me when she was in her late 30s she knew all about farming. I told her that was an ignorant, arrogant attitude. She knew about feeding calfs, unloading hay wagons and stacking bales in the mow, scrapping the alleys but she didn’t know a thing about the business. She didn’t know about the milk inspector, how much the milk check was and what expenses were paid, saw me treat cows but had no idea why, didn’t know why I bought certain seed or how much it costs. That moore knows how to be a teacher, thats it. Harsdorf is on some of the ag committees down at Madison where she can help us. Moore will want to be on education committees because that’s all she knows, and there are few teachers who don’t want more money for schools and there paychecks. Give a teacher a blank check and watch our property tax go high like before use value.

    Mr Shafer sounds like one of those negative farmers who can only see the bad even when the good is sitting right at the barn door. Ellsworth and Hastings don’t take BST milk, why don’t you ship to them? Even when BST first hit the market, Hastings never allowed its farmers to use it. And Mr Shafer makes it look like Harsdorf can wave a magic wand and make milk prices go up. Those prices are set by the federal government, talk to Kohl, Kind and Johnson. Feingold had his hand in there to, the state can’t do anything. I think he took advantage of lower prices at Stockmans and Fleet Farm and helped those feed mills go out of business.

    Biggest problem to farms keeping cows isn’t some government program. Why didn’t that Ms Herron go back and farm? probably for the same reason I sold the cows, no young person wanted to spend 60, 80 hours a week taking care of the cows. Can’t even get good help anymore, no one wants to work that hard. Maybe one of the kids will want to come back to the farm in 10 or 20 years and maybe raise beef or sheep, but no one wants to milk cows. Maybe Mr Shafers daughter will want to milk cows, and hopefully he will make smart business decisions to help her do that. Sounds like he likes to limit his options by being closed minded.

    Herd there is a farmer in St Croix Co who just put in robotic milkers so his wife didn’t have to work so hard. Kids left the farm, and the guy decides to spend a lot of money. Those robots aren’t cheap and I herd he had to put in a brand new milkhouse to. I think he is one of those organic farmers. Maybe Mr Shafer should go hang out with him, get some ideas.

    Wife says to end the rant. Harsdorf has been good, but what was she supposed to do when Doyle was in charge? There were problems with that family farm act. All that Shelley Moore will do is raise taxes. This whole recall thing is a big waste of money.

    • Avatar of Heidi Herron Heidi Herron says:

      Retired Dairy Farmer,
      as a rule – I do not respond to comments, good or bad. I see it as a chance for the community to have their chance to speak on the issues. However, when someone displays half-truths on my site – I will step in to remedy that.

      I checked out your link on the WFU website. It would behoove you to continue reading past the title next time. Here is what the website had to say “The news about PACE and the conversion fee is not so good….The Joint Finance Committee did restore the authorization for the PACE program, so that the program remains on the books. However, there will not be any funding for PACE contracts in 2011 or 2012. “

      • retired dairy farmer says:

        Retired farmers wife says:
        Honey, I didn’t write this tittle:
        “Wisconsin Farmers Union applauds preservation of PACE Program, Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin Program”
        And while you can copy the paragraph that supports your position, you ignore the last paragraph, “Under the provisions approved by the Joint Finance Committee, DATCP would be directed to undertake a study of the PACE program and evaluate options for a replacement program that would be less costly and more efficient for preserving farmland. DATCP is to report its findings to Joint Finance and the Assembly and Senate ag by June 30, 2012. “Wisconsin Farmers Union appreciates the creation of the study committee, and we look forward to lending the voice of family farmers to that discussion,” said Von Ruden. “We expect that the study committee will take up the issue of the conversion fee and develop a proposal that is fair to all involved.”

        Less costly and more efficient for a program that currently is saving farmland in other parts of the state.

        And if you wanted to use the Journal article title, “Farmland preservation program on the chopping block”, perhaps you should have noticed the last two paragraphs:
        Lyon, the deputy agriculture secretary, said other portions of the Working Lands Initiative remain in place, including working with counties on zoning to preserve farmland and income tax credits for farmers who agree to keep their land in farm production.
        “Currently in the governor’s budget, the meat and potatoes of farmland preservation are still there…Quite honestly, if we do those kinds of things, we’ll preserve more farmland than through a PACE program,” Lyon said.

        Retired farmer says: put 10 farmers in a room and there’ll be 10 different ways of farming but none of them is lazy. 9 farmers will have an opinion on how the 10th farms, but understand just because you have an opinion that doesn’t mean you think the guy is wrong. All of the farmers will agree that talking about a problem doesn’t solve the problem, but that doesn’t stop at least 1 of the farmers from whining about the problem. All of the farmers know life ain’t fair, but every farm seems to have different fairness.

        Farms been disappearing since farming started. Neighbor farmer died in the 1950s, wife had died a few years before, kids didn’t want anything to do with farm, Dad and another neighbor bought that farm and split it up = loss one farm, and 2 bigger farms.

        Got 5 neighbor dairy farms, plus mine. Go back to 1930s when farms were in the family that still owns them today. 6 farm couples = 23 kids; of those 23 kids, 8 buy family farm and 5 still milk (one farm has 3 brothers farming as a corp) and 1 “hobby” farm (full time outside job, raise draft horses). 3 of those kids get full time jobs and buy other farms to run as a hobby farm. of 23 kids in- full time farming: 7, hobby farmers-4 =11 kids in ag.

        Of those 8 kids on those 6 family farms they have 16 kids. 1 of those 16 has bought the family dairy farm and is full time. Extension agent tolt him he couldn’t make it without getting big. Kid is making it work with the same number of cows his daddy had, not easy but he’s doing it. 1 kid rents family farm for hobby-type beef herd. 10 kids want nothing to do with farming. Rest of kids-4- are young and may/may not be helping on farm.

        Go back to those the 1960 to 1970s when most of the 23 kids were graduating hs and dairy farming was good and profitable, and 12 kids wanted nothing to do with farming. It ain’t tax policy or milk prices that make kids want to farm. One of the area big farms can get all sorts of tractor drivers, but no one wants to do the hard, dirty work of milking cows even in the parlor so he gets Mexican labor that is very good.

        One time when I was young I tolt my dad I wished a cow would milk more. he tolt me to get a handful of manure and then had me whisper my wish into the other hand. Then he asked me what I had more of. You all can wish for the traditional family farm all you want, but without people who have the heart and brains and tolerance to do it you anin’t got nothing.

        Mr Shafer’s kids may not want to farm and he’ll just have to learn to live with it. Maybe he’ll have a kid who does and rather than worrying about it he needs to look at how people are passing down farms today. There’s plenty of ideas out there. Maybe he cant afford a parlor but he can do a flat barn. Good luck to him, its hard to see the cows go but if noone wants to do the work there aint no choice.

  9. Noahvose says:

    Retired Dairy Farmer,

    I wish you had said at the beginning of your long rant that you believe everything Sen. Harsdorf has done for farmers is “good” and everything Doyle did was “bad”. At least I would have known your bias upfront. First of all, I don’t understand how Sen. Harsdorf gets a free pass with everything that happened under Doyle…she was on the Finance Committee wasn’t she? How can she hold any credibility when she blames the past for where we are, while she was helping drive the state’s economy?

    I’ll keep my comment MUCH shorter and ask one simple question: Do you think that all the disappearing small family farms in WI are due to their ineptitude and/or laziness?

    Otherwise, you must admit that the current administration and Sen. Harsdorf has helped stack the deck against small farms in favor of large corporate ones…and that, by the way, is not the free enterprise that you seem to love so well.

  10. Eric Larson says:

    Insurance:

    In a 2002 study of dairy farmers showed that even when farmers purchased health plans 58 percent reported only carrying major medical with a 500.00 deductable. 1 out of every 4 fully insured reported getting any preventative care. Farmers are either neglecting routine care (making them more prone to injury and illness) or paying preventative care out of pocket. Also most farm related injuries are not covered by insurance (farmers have to absorb medical costs not covered and are paying for lost wages at the same time.) Because of these insurance conditions that are unique to farmers and the rich dairy and cooperative culture in Wisconsin a healthcare cooperative for farmers was created (Farmers Health Cooperative of Wisconsin).

    FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

    Q How did Farmers’ Health Cooperative get its start?
    A The Farmers’ Health Cooperative of Wisconsin (FHCW) was created under the “Co-op Care” legislation conceived by the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives to help farmers and small employers gain leverage in the health insurance market.

    Q What makes this program unique?
    A FHCW is owned and governed by its farmer and agribusiness members, which means members are directly involved in the financial and benefit decisions made by the cooperative. When you enroll in other commercial insurance plans, you have no say in the decisions that affect your health care.

    Q Why will this work when similar concepts have failed?
    A The Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives knows Wisconsin farmers and agribusinesses. Our partner, Agri-Services Agency (ASA), has a wealth of experience insuring farmers in 48 other states. Aetna insurance, our selected insurance carrier, was ranked No. 2 in the health care category in Fortune magazine’s 2006 Most Admired Companies.

    These three proven performers have joined forces to carefully develop a plan for health care for farmers and agribusiness employees of various ages and backgrounds. This variety, combined with a strong vision for improving members’ health and the three-year commitment to the cooperative will help avoid the so-called ‘death spiral’ faced by other purchasing pools.

    Q Who is the health insurance carrier?
    A The cooperative has contracted with Aetna, one of the nation’s top five insurers, to provide insurance to cooperative members.

    Q Who is Agri-Services Agency (ASA)?
    A ASA is an insurance management company owned by Dairylea Cooperative that currently provides health and workers compensation insurance to 70,000 farmers and agribusinesses across the U.S. ASA will provide customer service, premium billing and collection and other administrative services for the members of FHCW. ASA has over thirty years of experience meeting farmers’ insurance needs.

    Q How much does it cost to become a member of the Farmers’ Health Cooperative of Wisconsin?
    A It costs $2 per farmer or per employee per month. This will be billed monthly as part of your health insurance premium. You will also be required to pay a separate capitalization fee.

    Q What is the capitalization fee?
    A This is the fee you pay when you enroll in the cooperative. It will be held in a reserve account and will be returned to you after your three years of enrollment has been completed.

    Q What happens if members want to terminate their insurance coverage prior to the three years?
    A If they terminate early, they will lose the capitalization fee they paid when they joined the cooperative.

    Q Who is eligible to participate?
    A Eligible farmers are aged 18 to 64 who live or work in Wisconsin and are actively working in agricultural production (whereby at least 66 percent of income is derived from farming). ‘Actively working’ is defined as working a minimum of 30 hours per week on a regular basis, and not working in agricultural production on a temporary (less than six months) or substitute basis.

    Eligible agribusinesses must be a business enterprise providing direct services to production agriculture in Wisconsin or an employee of a business enterprise providing direct services to production agriculture in Wisconsin, subject to approval by the cooperative.

    It’s also important for you to know that each adult must participate in a personal Health Risk Assessment within 90 days of enrollment in order to continue your participation in the program.

    Q Why do members have to sign up for three years?
    A The three year commitment is required by state law, and allows the cooperative to negotiate a more favorable arrangement with the insurer that includes caps on premium increases, bringing you more stable rates. It also protects the cooperative from the adverse selection that has occurred in other purchasing pools where enrollees could enroll and disenroll at any time.

    Q What happens after three years?
    A That will be up to the members of the cooperative. They may decide to renew the contract with Aetna, or consider another insurance carrier.

    Q Can anyone be rejected for coverage if I have a current medical condition?
    A No, you cannot be rejected for coverage. However, your final premium rates are based on your and/or your family’s health status.

    Q Does FHCW cover pre-existing conditions?
    A Pre-existing conditions are covered if members have had one year or more of continuous health insurance coverage, without a lapse of more than 63 days from the expiration date of your previous coverage and the effective date of your FHCW coverage.

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