Speaking at the World Dairy Expo this morning, , Governor Tony Evers emphasized the importance of agriculture to Wisconsin’s economy.
EVERS: “Wisconsin’s dairy industry is truly instrumental to our state’s and national agriculture industry. An industry that remains a critical driver of our state’s economy and our workforce contributing almost 105 billion dollars to the state’s economy and providing over 435,000 jobs.”
Overlooking a pavilion of dairy cows, Evers announced a package of bills aimed to bolster the state’s agricultural industry. That comes after years of difficulty for small dairy farms. According to numbers from the state’s Department of Agriculture, Wisconsin lost more than 800 dairy farms in 2019 — or roughly ten percent of the state’s dairy farms.
EVERS: “We’re proposing a robust package now of legislation to invest over $25 million towards bolstering our ag economy workforce, promoting and building local markets for Wisconsin ag products and connecting the dots so that our farmers and local communities to help tackle food insecurity and hunger at the same time.”
Included in the package is funding to connect food aid charities with producers, provide financial support to students studying meat processing, and additional funding for marketing a business program that highlights Wisconsin-made products. It would fund farm-to-school programs to get more locally grown food to schools, businesses, hospitals and higher education facilities.
It also creates a program to help increase farmer access to mental health support services. new Regional Farmer Mental Health program aimed at increasing access to mental health support services for farmers.
Joining the governor today was State Senator Brad Pfaff, Representative Dave Considine, and Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) Secretary Randy Romanski.
In 2019, Pfaff attended the last World Dairy Expo – as the Secretary-Designee of DATCP. In the intervening two years, he was essentially fired by the state legislature after urging immediate mental health support for farmers. Pfaff’s termination was an unprecedented move by the G-O-P.
Now, he’s back as a State Senator, representing large portions of the dairy-producing Driftless region.
Today, he signaled his support for the package.
PFAFF: “We can’t just think of agriculture as a farmer’s business. We need to think of agriculture as everybody’s business. This bill is an opportunity to support our state’s agriculture industry and at the same time help all of us, the people of this state, deal with food insecurity.”
State Representative Dave Considine focused on the Regional Farmer Mental Health Program.
CONSIDINE: “They’re going to reach out to somebody that they know; somebody in their community. And it’s that part that this bill addresses. It brings and gives people from DATCP time to get out to their local communities, regionally around our state, introduce themselves to farmers and offer them help. It is vital that farmers have that help in their local community.”
Romanski says the package could strengthen ties between farmers and their local communities.
ROMANSKI: “One of the things we saw during the pandemic is that people wanted to have that closer connection to their food. Know your farmer, know your food, know where it comes from. In Wisconsin, that could be just down the road a little ways.”
Governor Evers was hopeful that the package would gain bipartisan support.
EVERS: “It will be circulated, and hopefully we will get some bipartisan support. There was bipartisan support for additional money during the discussions on the budget. However, leadership cut that off. We’re just hopeful that this is a time where people feel strongly about it. We’re bouncing back as a state and this helps us do it.”
The bills were first proposed by Governor Evers in his latest budget. Nick Levendofsky is the Government Relations Director of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, an organization that supports family farmers.
LEVENDOFSKY: “Certainly, the Wisconsin Farmers Union is supportive of these efforts and we want to see them move forward. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it into the state budget. The Joint Finance Committee cut a lot of these programs significantly. So, this is just one other way for the Governor to be able to move these positive and progressive legislative items forward through the legislative process.”
Image courtesy: Karoliina Bursian / WORT News