A commentary by Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch.
What does the French government have in common with Wisconsin?
An astonishing amount of cheese...to the point where French President Charles de Gaulle once said, 'How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?' If President de Gaulle were alive today, he would probably be surprised to learn that Wisconsin has more than 600 different types of cheese that come more than 9,900 Wisconsin dairy farms. (President de Gaulle would no doubt be impressed that good governance is plenty possible with that much cheese, too.)
June is Dairy Month in Wisconsin, which means you are invited to any one of the dozens of dairy breakfasts held at family farms across our state.
This Wisconsin tradition teaches new generations of dairy consumers, Wisconsin neighbors and curiosity seekers alike about the biggest ($43.3 billion) contributor to Wisconsin's $88.3 billion agriculture economy. Folks in Florida may be proud of their citrus and people in Idaho have their potatoes. But last year in Wisconsin, our dairy industry contributed twice the amount that oranges and potatoes contributed to Florida and Idaho's economies combined.
Wisconsin dairy exports even brought close to $1 billion into the state in 2014, a figure that has tripled over the last five years. And our dairy products win awards as frequently as our football teams win Super Bowls. At the 2016 World Cheese Championship, Wisconsin brought home more awards than all of the other states combined.
When you put a cow and cheese on your state quarter, you also have to be prepared to put your money where your mouth is. A few years ago, we enacted a Manufacturing and Agriculture tax credit. It lowers the income tax on our family farms to .04% (effectively nothing) so they have more cash to hire workers, invest in equipment and increase production.
We also added additional seats in Ag science and food processing at our tech colleges to put our dairy workforce on 'fast forward'. Because dairy is one of the foundations of Wisconsin's economy, we want to ensure that the current generation of dairy farmers have access to the tools and resources they need to sustain a tradition that can be passed to future generations.
We know that many of Wisconsin farms are passed on through generations. In fact, 96% of all Wisconsin dairy farms are family-owned, which makes them great places to take your family this Dairy Month.