CAMBRIDGE, WI – APRIL 25: Cows walk from a barn after being milked on Hinchley’s Dairy Farm on April 25, 2017 near Cambridge, Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A group of four legislators from both sides of the aisle discussed how state policies can support Wisconsin agriculture and the dairy industry at an event hosted by the Dairy Business Association (DBA) on Tuesday.
Sens. Brad Pfaff (D-Onalaska) and Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) and Reps. Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City) and Don Vruwink (D-Milton), spoke Tuesday morning for the association’s legislative panel about areas where there is bipartisan agreement and how they believe farmers can be supported as job creators while being mindful of issues such as water quality and the environment.
“Agriculture is good land conservation,” said Pfaff, who previously served as the Secretary-designee of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. “I represent the Driftless Region, the rolling hills, coulees and valleys. Our family farmers, they know how to work with the environment, with the land, in order to make sure they can continue to make ends meet, at the same time recognize the fact that they drink the water that comes from their well.”
When it comes to preserving the land and water, Pfaff said, “We can do this. We need to do this. We do it every single day, as far as back home, working in balance.”
“If you invest in agriculture in this state, if our budget invests in agriculture, we’re investing in our state’s economy,” he continued. “We’re investing in our state’s people. We’re investing in our communities. We’re investing in the long term.”
The DBA spent hundreds of hours in the first half of 2021 lobbying for dozens of bills related to agriculture, according to records from the Wisconsin Ethics Commission. Campaign finance records show the organization gave thousands of dollars to Democratic and Republican candidates and committees in the past few years.
Both Pfaff and Testin appeared at the event as their campaigns for higher office begin in earnest. Pfaff is running to replace the retiring Rep. Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) in Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District and Testin is running for lieutenant governor. Both will be on the ballot this fall.
While Pfaff opened his remarks talking about how farmers can be good stewards of the environment, Testin began by talking about the important place agriculture has in the state’s economy and the challenges presented by aging rural communities and the effort required to help farmers keep their employees.
“We also have to acknowledge that we have some challenges ahead of us,” Testin said. “When you take a look at the average age of our dairy farmers approaching 60 years old, and the demographics of our state where the population that’s 65 or older are set to increase exponentially over the next several years, that is going to put significant challenges not just on things like our Medicaid budget, long-term care, but also in manufacturing, within agriculture, within transportation.”
“We talk about supply chain issues right now, if we’re not being more proactive rather than reactive, we are going to be behind the eight ball pretty quick. Which is why I think it’s critical as we move forward as a state, we need to make sure we retain our workforce.”
The legislators highlighted a number of agricultural issues where both sides are in agreement, such as making sure farmers have the ability to export their products internationally.
The group also pointed to legislation currently in the Senate that would prevent certain products from using the name “milk” in their labels. The “truth in labeling” bills, which passed the Assembly last summer, would prevent companies from using “milk” in the name unless the product comes from a hooved animal — meaning products such as almond milk would need to be labeled differently in Wisconsin.
All four legislators are cosponsors of the measure, and while the two representatives expressed some frustration at the Senate’s delay in passage, they said the bill was a good way to support the state’s dairy farmers.
“We were able to get those bills through the Assembly. The Senate, for whatever reason — I don’t always understand the politics in the Senate,” Tranel said. “And so hopefully, at the end of the day, they will come around. I don’t see from either side what could be bad about passing them whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, I think it’s a ton of opportunity for the state of Wisconsin.”
The DBA conference continues Wednesday and Thursday with panels and speeches about the state’s agriculture industry. On Thursday, Gov. Tony Evers and former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are set to speak.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.