State legislators address concerns of rural Wisconsin

Dan Hansen

Antigo - When the Wisconsin Agri-Business Association (WABA) sponsors tours of various agribusinesses each year, it invites local officials and state legislators to give them an opportunity to learn more about these businesses, and see what they do, according to WABA Executive Director Tom Bressner.

Two state lawmakers from northern Wisconsin – Sen. Tom Tiffany (R - Hazelhurst), and Rep. Jim Edming, (R-Glen Flora) – participated in the recent tour of the Insight FS Cooperative in Antigo, where they spoke to Wisconsin State Farmer about some of the issues that are important to farmers and other rural residents in their districts.

Rep. Jim Edming
Sen. Tom Tiffany

Tiffany represents citizens in Senate District 12 that encompasses counties in north central and northeast Wisconsin. He is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, which has been working on several important issues facing Wisconsin farmers, including the threat to livestock from the state’s expanding wolf packs.

Wolf threats

Sen. Tiffany was one of the organizers of a recent wolf summit that was held in northern Wisconsin. “We think that was an important step in trying to get Congress to remove wolves from the Federal Endangered Species List here in the Great Lakes States,” he said. “It’s very important they do that because our Department of Natural Resources will do a much better job managing the state’s wolf population.”

He said the summit helped to bring out some key information on how much of a threat wolves really pose to Wisconsin farmers. “Wolves are having a really harmful effect on farmers in northern Wisconsin, and that is steadily moving south. We’re seeing wolf damage to dairy farmers in Shawano County, and we’ve seen sheep farmers around Wisconsin Rapids get hit by wolves,” he explained.

Tiffany says grazers are facing a special threat from wolves.

“Many of our environmental groups have been pushing rotational grazing for beef and dairy cattle, and what we heard at the summit is that grazers are being harmed by this excessive wolf population because when the cattle are put out in these paddocks they become easy targets for wolves,” he related.

“Control measures need to be put in place, and the sooner Congress delists, the better,” Tiffany asserted.

Road work

The condition of rural roads also is a major concern for farmers, and Tiffany says he’s focused on keeping the existing town and county roads in the best possible condition.

“I agree with Gov. Walker that we should maintain and repair what we have before we authorize any more mega projects in southeastern Wisconsin,” he said. “We need to bring more money to rural Wisconsin.”

Tiffany takes issue with some who claim Wisconsin has the third worst roads in the nation. “Obviously, they have not driven in other states because we have very good roads; we just need to make sure keep our rural roads, culverts and bridges in good condition.”

One bill that recently passed the Legislature should help bring more money to rural communities. “We took some of the Managed Forest Law fees, which are actually property taxes, that have been going to the DNR, and we’re returning them to the local units of government, which will amount to more than $18 million over the next three years,” Tiffany said.

Rural employment 

Finding qualified employees to fill jobs on farms and in other rural businesses is a continuing challenge, according to Tiffany.

“Workforce training needs to remain a strong focus, and our technical colleges will continue to be an important part of this effort,” he said. “Over the past two years we’ve put more money into the technical schools to make sure they have the resources they need to be able to turn out employees who can do those jobs.”

Manure transportation issues

One of the problems that rural governments face is maintaining the integrity of town roads while allowing farmers to get manure to their fields.

Rep. Jim Edming, whose 87th Assembly District is in north central Wisconsin, helped pass legislation that he says is a win for both farmers and the town roads.

The law, which has been in effect for more than a year, provides a  process for authorizing pipelines or hoses transmitting liquid manure within or across a highway right-of-way.

“Before this new law was passed. we had too many farmers hauling hundreds of loads in manure tankers carrying tens of thousands of pounds on town roads that were never built to handle this weight,” Edming said. “Now farmers will be able to more easily pump manure through pipelines to get it to nearby fields.”

He noted that one pump at the manure pit will transport manure up to a mile, with additional pumps needed for transporting great distances.

“Even though it’s expensive to get started, we hope to see more people starting this type of business because these pipelines will not only help protect our rural roads, they’ll also reduce traffic and lower fuel costs for farmers,”  Edming stressed.