Madison — If Wisconsin is to remain known for dairy farming and food, state government must provide farmers with tools for success, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch told hundreds of farmers and others today at a dairy conference.
“If we declare to the world that we’re the Dairy State, we need to do everything we can to support our dairy industry,” Kleefisch said during an address at Dairy Strong 2017: The Journey Forward, the annual conference of the Dairy Business Association, at the Monona Terrace Community & Convention Center.
That support includes high-quality infrastructure so trucks can easily travel to and from dairies and other destinations; making sure farmers have access to the water they need; and having enough workers to fill the open jobs at farms, Kleefisch said.
Regarding water, she said the state Assembly will again take up a bill regarding high-capacity wells, which can pump up to 10,000 gallons of water a day. Dairy farmers need water for their cows. The bill from the last legislative session would have allowed owners of high-capacity wells to repair, replace or transfer an existing well without a new permit from the Department of Natural Resources.
“Farmers are the first and truest environmentalists and you need water to grow your industry,” Kleefisch said.
On infrastructure, Kleefisch said Gov. Scott Walker’s upcoming budget will include money for roads. “You’ll be seeing a renewed commitment to investing in infrastructure since we know heavy trucks on our roads are vital to the ag industry,” she said. “Roads and highways need to be in good condition.”
Kleefisch said there are several possible solutions to the shortage of agricultural workers in Wisconsin. With the new Trump administration in Washington, she predicted that more power will be returned to the states, and this could be a prime opportunity.
“There’s a unique solution being talked about that would allow each state to issue their own visas,” she said. “That way, if your state needs more dairy workers, you would have more authority to issue visas” to bring in an immigrant workforce, she said.
For workers already in Wisconsin, Kleefisch said investing in job training programs at technical colleges and correctional institutions would create more employees for the dairy industry. She said Northcentral Technical College in Wausau plans to start a program at the state prison in Waupun, which has a dairy farm, to provide inmates with training and certifications they need to get a job on a farm after they are released.
“We will need farm partners who are willing to give them a second chance,” she said.