Farmers lobby lawmakers
A larger-than-expected group of farmers convened in Madison last week for Ag Day at the Capitol to hear policy briefings and political speeches and make their voices heard in lawmakers’ offices.
Jeff Lyon, deputy secretary at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection told the group of 400 farmers that “this is your chance to tell your story about how rules and regulations will affect your business.”
He also advised them to talk to lawmakers or their staffers about the economic conditions for farmers right now. “They think you guys made a lot of money and everything in farming is really good. You need to talk about the challenges you face too.”
Lyon said DATCP is facing its own set of challenges right now with so-called “earmarks” from Washington drying up and affecting the services they can offer. This money from Washington, channeled from Congress, amounts to about $7 million for the agency.
Affected programs include the Dairy Business Innovation Center, Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium, Johne’s disease, chronic wasting disease programs for deer farmers and Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin.
Staffers at the department are meeting with various stakeholder groups to make decisions about these programs. They are also internally reviewing all services with the goal of maintaining staffing levels and protecting their core missions, he said.
“In the year I’ve been at the department I’ve been impressed with the dedication and technical knowledge of our staff.”
Attorney and lobbyist addresses crowd
The crowd of farmers also heard from attorney and lobbyist Jordan Lamb, an advocate of many agriculture groups, including the Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association, Wisconsin Pork Association, Wisconsin Cranberry Growers Association and the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association.
She cautioned farmers that legislation on air emissions for farms and wetlands are two areas they should talk to lawmakers about.
In 2004 Wisconsin regulations were amended to include a three-year moratorium from permitting requirements on emissions associated with livestock waste. That exemption was extended until July of 2011, and last year lawmakers extended it for a third time until this July.
But there can be no more extensions.
“Wisconsin is not ready to regulate air emissions on farms,” Lamb said. “These regulations were designed for smokestacks, not farms.”
She urged farmers to talk to their representatives about supporting Assembly Bill 195 and Senate Bill 138 which would exempt livestock farms from having to obtain an air emissions permit from the Department of Natural Resources.
The DNR rule to regulate air emissions on farms will go into effect in July unless there is legislative action this spring, she said.
Without passage of the companion bills the DNR will have to start issuing permits in August.
Lamb also told farmers about new legislation to reform the wetland permitting process. Assembly Bill 463 and Senate Bill 386 would direct the DNR to establish state general permits that are consistent with the current federal permits under the Army Corps of Engineers.
The bill would require DNR to include an analysis of net positive or negative environmental impact of a project and any corresponding mitigation as it reviews a permit application.
The proposed measure would also modify the definition of “practical alternative” to clarify that when DNR evaluates a wetland fill, it must also consider alternatives on the existing site.
“Permission under the current system is very, very difficult,” she said. Input from all sides, including realtors, environmentalists and agriculture, went into development of these bills, she added.
“It doesn’t’ give agriculture everything it wanted but it is a huge step in the right direction.”
The companion bills ask the agency to look at building projects as a whole and speed up the process. “There has been a lot of uncertainty about when permits will be issued and an endless time of indecision.”
The measure, she said, will help farmers secure permits for projects that have an impact on wetlands while still protecting the environment.
Other issues addressed
Paul Zimmerman, a lobbyist with Wisconsin Farm Bureau, which hosts the Ag Day event each year, talked about the effect of wolves in the northern reaches of the state.
The once-endangered species now numbers at least 800 head in the state and legislation has been introduced to establish an annual wolf hunting and trapping season. Another bill that is expected would establish a hunting season for sandhill cranes.
Farm Bureau asked farmers to support both bills.
They were also asked to support a bill to allow certain vehicles transporting manure to or from a farm to exceed weight limits by not more than 15 percent from September 1 to November 30 each year without a permit.
Zimmerman said the legislation is in response to increased enforcement of road weight limits that occurred in some counties last fall. A number of manure haulers were cited for driving on local roads with vehicles in excess of weight limits.