When farmers gathered for their annual Ag Day at the Capital last week, they heard about a number of important issues that need to be addressed with legislators before the session ends in April.
Among those issues is a bill dealing with Implements of Husbandry or IoH, which is making its way through the legislature and would clarify the size and weight of farm implements.
Towns and counties, farmers and implement dealers and manufacturers have been working with lawmakers to work out details based on recommendations that came out of a task force at the Department of Transportation last year.
Karen Gefvert, director of governmental relations with Wisconsin Farm Bureau, showed farmers in the audience how the weight and size of their commonly used farm implements would stack up on the roads.
The whole process began when farmers in Marathon and other counties began to get citations for overweight manure spreaders, she explained.
The legislation aimed at solving that problem is Senate Bill 509 and its companion measure, Assembly Bill 648. "Doing nothing is not a preferred option," she said.
Under current law many farm implements, including tractors, grain carts and manure spreaders, are not legal to run on public roads, she added. In many cases, gross weight is the problem and it is showing up in damage to local roads, which brings municipalities into the discussion.
State Representative Keith Ripp (R-Lodi) and State Senator Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) drafted the legislation to make changes and clarifications to Wisconsin's IoH statutes.
Paul Zimmerman, Farm Bureau's executive director of governmental relations, told the farm audience that the farming community needs to work with lawmakers to get this issue resolved.
He urged them to talk to their legislators about how their farms and businesses are being affected and how they could be affected if no changes are made.
Casey Langan, spokesman for Wisconsin Farm Bureau, said it's important for lawmakers to hear from farmers. "There is an interest group for everything far beyond what people might imagine," he said.
"There's an abundance of interest groups — every profession, every hobby has a lobbying day. A $60 billion industry like agriculture really ought to come to the capital at least one day a year."
Langan said organizers, including Farm Bureau, hope this annual lobbying day becomes a conversation between lawmakers and farmer that continues. "We want them to think about the industry and farmers. Legislators like real life examples. That makes it easier to vote."
Zimmerman added that 60 percent of the Assembly's members are in their first or second terms. For those in their second term, this is the first "normal" one, he said, as their first terms were dominated by the recalls and protests. There is still a strong effort that needs to be put forth to educate them on farm issues.
He urged farmers to talk about the strong balance sheet that state agriculture is carrying with $75 billion in assets and only $8 billion in debt.
Legislation aimed at clarified the situation on state wells is another critical issue for farmers and lawmakers.
Senate Bill 302 authored by Senator Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn), would address the high capacity well regulatory uncertainty that was created by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in the 2011 Lake Beulah decision, explained Jordan Lamb, an attorney who lobbies for several farm organizations.
The companion bill is AB 679, introduced by Rep. Jeff Mursau (R-Crivitz.)
"The Lake Beulah decision was a shock," she said.
That Supreme Court decision left the state without a clear framework for regulating high-capacity wells. "Farmers need to be able to rely on their currently operating wells.
"Lenders have loaned money based on infrastructure that is built up around existing wells. Under the Lake Beulah decision, replacing or reconstructing a well that has failed will be looked at as if it is entirely new."
This legislation restores regulatory certainty to Wisconsin's high capacity well permitting program by clarifying what standards of review will be applied by the DNR to new wells, new wells in environmentally sensitive areas, replacement wells and reconstructed wells.
The bill would also establish a clear system for transferring ownership of wells when a farm is sold or passed down to the next generation.
As it stands now, farmers may need to get new well permits if a well needs to be rebuilt or if the property is sold.
The bill, which is regarded as critical for farmers, has been recommended for passage by the Senate Natural Resources Committee and awaits consideration by the full Senate and Assembly.
Since she addressed Ag Day at the Capital last year, Lamb said that at least there is a bill to talk about. It clarifies the replacement of high-capacity wells and the reconstruction of wells.
It also clarifies change of ownership provisions.
"Right now it's unclear in case of sale or inheritance whether wells would be subject to environmental review. That's a ridiculous result, in my opinion."
The system now is just confusion, she added.
"We've got to get the job done on Implements of Husbandry and well legislation," said Zimmerman.