Cows graze on the Tranel Family Farm, Organic Valley farmer-member (photo courtesy of Organic Valley)
Gov. Tony Evers announced a $43 million budget proposal on Friday meant to invest in and support the Wisconsin agricultural industry through a number of grants and programs.
The proposal for the 2021-23 biennium is targeted at expanding markets for Wisconsin farmers both locally and internationally, promoting innovation and conservation and supporting the mental health and well-being of farmers.
The proposal comes just more than a month after Evers’ task force on rural prosperity released a comprehensive report proposing dozens of policy options for rural Wisconsin that ranged from improving access to broadband and affordable housing to investing in the state’s agricultural industry.
“Our agricultural industry is Wisconsin’s past and present, and it will be our future,” said Evers. “Our proud farming history is core to our state’s culture and people, and Wisconsin farmers have carried and supported our state economy for generations. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and then throughout this pandemic, our farmers and producers were fighting every day to save their farms and to save their industry while helping us put food on our tables. It’s time to join in this fight for Wisconsin’s farmers and their families and agricultural industries to ensure future economic prosperity our rural communities and our entire state.”
Nearly half of Evers’ proposal, $20 million, will go toward connecting Wisconsin’s food banks and pantries with food producers. The proposal also includes creating or additionally funding several grants and programs to provide, among other assistance, support to dairy farmers, meat processing facilities and mental health support systems.
Shortly after the proposal was announced, industry groups and agriculture-focused officials lined up to support it.
State Sen. Brad Pfaff (D-Onalaska), who previously served as secretary-designee of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), said the proposal was a long-term investment that touches every aspect of Wisconsin’s agriculture industry.
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“Governor Evers’ historic investment in agriculture is great for Wisconsin,” Pfaff said in a statement. “Agriculture has been the backbone of our state for over a century. It employs one in nine Wisconsinites and contributes nearly $105 billion to Wisconsin’s economy every year. Farming is in the fabric of our rural communities, and this proposal is a catalyst for success well into the future.”
Members of the Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU), which has pushed Evers to invest more heavily in the industry, were pleased with the proposals.
“Our rural places and family farms have been in decline for decades and are in dire need of investment,” WFU President Darin Von Ruden said in a statement. “This budget demonstrates a commitment to agriculture and reassures rural Wisconsinites that their voices are being heard and their communities matter to the State of Wisconsin.”
As the Dairy State, Wisconsin is home to more cows than any other state. The agricultural industry provides $104.8 billion annually to the state’s economy and $45.6 billion of that comes just from the dairy industry. Members of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA) support the assistance Evers is proposing.
“A stronger agricultural economy means a stronger Wisconsin,” John Umhoefer, WCMA executive director, said in a statement. “Governor Evers’ budget proposal will help dairy farmers and dairy processors continue to build their businesses, providing family-supporting jobs and critical infrastructure for our state’s rural communities.”
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