Its Winter. Outside work is pretty much out of the question and farmers have been in their shops long enough. That is why January through March is meeting season.
When the sun comes out for a few days in March, Palouse farmers start getting antsy to get in the field, but right now, fertilizer and chemical retailers are putting on annual meetings for their customers to introduce new products and programs, and grain cooperatives and elevator companies are having their annual meetings. Extension faculty put on educational programs to make farmers aware of the latest research on crop production coming out of our public universities, and this year with the passage of a new farm bill, there will be meetings to explain its new provisions. We are seeing more of these meetings done by webinar, but within a 50 mile radius of my farm, I could attend two or three of these meetings every week for ten weeks, and not cover them all.
Many of these meetings will offer ‘pesticide recertification credits.’ In order for farmers to maintain their licenses to buy and use restricted use pesticides, we have to accumulate continuing education credits. The Washington State Department of Agriculture reviews the material to be offered at these meetings and determines how many credits they will be worth. It has been a real incentive to make everyone stay till the end of the meeting waiting for the credit sign-up sheet to be passed around at the end.
Getting a private applicator license in the first place requires passing an extensive test on pests, pesticides, and pesticide application. The test for a pesticide consultant license, the one you must have to make pesticide recommendations, is longer and more difficult, and requires 5 times more recertification credits to maintain. There is a further test for custom applicators licenses that is still more involved.
It is not all pesticides, though. There are also sessions on the ever changing crop insurance picture, new advances in wheat breeding that bring us better disease resistance, and estate planning. Yes, estate planning is perennially popular and the number 58, the average age of farmers in the U.S., probably has something to do with that. But it is also related to the fact that agriculture is so capital intensive that someone with a $60,000 annual income may have an estate worth $3 million.
With so many meetings to take up your day, which ones do you choose to go to? Well, the ones followed by a free lunch, depending on the caterer, are usually worth going to, but an old University of Idaho Extension Educator once told me, “the perceived success of a farmer meeting is directly proportional to the quality and quantity of the doughnuts and coffee presented.”