ALTOONA, Wis. (WEAU) -- Our new state Agriculture Secretary, Sheila Harsdorf, has added another top aid to her staff. As of the first of the year, former 42nd district state Assemblyman Keith Ripp of Lodi, was added as the new Assistant Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. His major duties will be overseeing the department's policy development and administration as well as being the department's lead in working with outside stakeholders. Ripp is a third generation farmer on his family's livestock and grain farm and he also helps run a small family trucking operation. He was first elected to the State Assembly in 2008 and has chaired the transportation and consumer protection committees as well as serving on the ag committee.
The USDA in Washington has recognized some of the hardships caused this past year in northern parts of the state because of the heavy rains and flooding that happened from April through October. In a decision announced just before New Year's, department officials declared Rusk and Sawyer counties as primary natural disaster areas. That means farmers in those 2 counties can qualify for natural disaster assistance. And that also means farmers in the contiguous counties of Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Chippewa, Douglas, Price, Taylor and Washburn also qualify for the same assistance. The Farm Service Agency will handle all the disaster assistance applications.
When the House of Representatives passed a disaster aid bill just before Christmas, it included some provisions that could help dairy farmers. The bill would eliminate the existing $20 million annual cap on the Livestock Gross Margin program. That would let the USDA offer coverage to more farmers under the current LGM program and give new risk management options to dairy farmers. Currently there is no cap on payments to commodities under the Federal Crop Insurance program but livestock products like milk are not considered commodities and the language of this bill would change that and allow higher coverage limits for the dairy industry. The Senate is scheduled to take up the bill sometime this month.
And dairy farmers need the price help. Not only are conventional dairymen facing lower prices, but so are organic producers. Currently organic processors are making big cuts to prices they pay to their producers. Processors are claiming there is too much organic milk in the country for their facilities to handle and consumer demand for the product is slowing. The global glut of milk means dairymen in New Zealand are also looking at lower prices. Last month, Fonterra, the huge New Zealand based cooperative that handles about 90% of New Zealand's milk, cut the milk price by 35 cents a kilo down to $6.40 with the actual payout for their current milking season expected to average just $6.30 a kilo. New Zealand exports most of their dairy production and accounts for about one third of the world's dairy exports.