The University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension has reduced its fleet, bought out ranks of rural agents, and cut the number of positions across the state. Now farmers stand to lose access to 100 years of knowledge at a time when they need it most.
Between 2007 and 2012, Lafayette, a county with just under 17,000 people, lost around 90 of its small and medium-sized farms (those under 1,000 acres). During that same five-year span, the county’s total farmland grew, with the average farm expanding by almost 40 acres. Since 2012, record harvests across the country have created an oversupply of product, and depressed prices for corn and soybeans—the backbone of Lafayette County’s farm economy. Rising costs for inputs and land aren’t helping matters, either.
Those conditions are prompting some Lafayette farmers to think about renting out their fertile cropland, which commands, by far, the highest cash rent per acre in the state.
“Land rent is a very big topic right now,” says Lori Berget, a youth educator in Lafayette County’s cooperative extension office. “A lot of producers call in and want to know: ‘What can I pay for land rent?’ And on the flip side of that, a lot of producers are calling in and asking: ‘What can I charge for land rent?’”