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Gov. Tony Evers shares plan to support agriculture, rural Wisconsin during Ag Day at the Capitol

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer

MADISON - Times are tough, but when farmers and agriculturists come together they are tougher. Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation (WFBF) President Joe Bragger greeted a crowd of more than 300 farmers and agriculturists with these words at Ag Day at the Capitol on Feb. 4 at Monona Terrace in Madison. 

The sheer number attending the event to learn more about state issues affecting agriculture before heading to the capitol spoke of the importance for each to tell their unique story. 

"With all the political discourse and divide it is great that we can come together, united in a common goal, to represent Wisconsin agriculture and the strength that our farms bring to the state and local economies," said Bragger. "Our legislators and our governor are faced with many different messages from many different people. Agriculture is often misrepresented and misunderstood. We know that our leaders appreciate the importance of agriculture, our rural communities and the farmers that support them. And we know they want to hear from us and that’s why we came together today."

Governor Tony Evers addresses farmers at the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Ag Day at the Capitol at Monona Terrace in Madison on Feb. 4, 2020.

Attendees started the day by listening to issue briefings on wildlife damage claims, food labeling and a host of other bills including farmer commercial driver’s license exemptions and farmland preservation tax credit before Governor Tony Evers took the stage to address the group. 

Evers looked back at the accomplishments in 2019 – significant improvements in the hemp program, investing $48 million in broadband services, "with the help of our legislature" making a commitment to improve rural roads and bridges and critical steps to improve water quality by declaring 2019 the year of clean drinking water.

"The important thing about that is, obviously it’s going to take more than a year or two to deal with that issue, but I have the utmost faith in the farm community that they are the original stewards of the land after the Native Americans, and there is no reason why we can’t work together to make drinking water a priority for us," Evers said. "There is still a lot of work to do, especially for our rural communities that have been hit hard the last four to five years and longer."

Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President Joe Bragger talks to Farm Bureau members attending Ag Day at the Capitol at Monona Terrace in Madison on Feb. 4.

Evers pointed to trade, tariff wars, low commodity prices as things buffeting rural Wisconsin and the agriculture community. 

"Farmers have supported our state for generations and our state has survived because of your resilience and dedication to your work," Evers said. "That’s why when talking to farmers and folks in rural Wisconsin I use my State of the State address to announce my three-prong plan starting to address the issues of agricultural industries and rural Wisconsin that they’re facing."

The first step of the plan focuses on bills "crafted after hearing from the folks and organizations that represent them on what the issues were and what hard times were all about." Bills providing resources to farmers through county agents and the Farm Center, creating a new Farm to Fork program connecting farmers and their products with businesses, creating a new regional mental health program for farmers and supporting the diversification of products. 

Governor Tony Evers laughs about his experience of watching the taxidermy of a squirrel at the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Ag Day at the Capitol at Monona Terrace in Madison on Feb. 4, 2020. Evers applauded the support agriculture groups have given to support agriculture education.

Evers said he is hopeful that legislators are "somewhat in favor of my proposals" and that they can "come to the table with farmers" and farm organization to get "some really important work done."

"All I want to do is work together and have some good conversation to actually do what’s right for rural Wisconsin," said Evers. 

Evers urged attendees to stay engaged. "It's so important because we have to start some place and we have to start today."

The second prong of his plan is to make sure farmers, the agriculture industry and rural communities are part of the state's economic development portfolio. 

"It can't all be around southeast Wisconsin folks," said Evers. "It's got to be a 72-county issue. I established a Blue Ribbon Commission to work on long-term strategies to invest in agriculture and world prosperity."

More than 330 farmers and agriculturists gathered at the Monona Terrace in Madison for Ag Day at the Capitol on Feb. 4. Ag Day at the Capitol is an annual event for Wisconsin farmers and agriculturists to learn more about state issues affecting agriculture and meet with their state legislators.

The third prong of the plan is to work with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to establish an Office of Rural Prosperity to provide opportunities for "folks to navigate the state programs and resources that are tailored to rural Wisconsin."

"I know all this is just scratching the surface," Evers said. "I know this is not a silver bullet."

“We appreciate Governor Evers taking the time to attend Ag Day at the Capitol this year,” said Bragger. “Our farmers and agriculturists want to know that their rural communities are a priority.”

As attendees were listening to a panel on water quality before heading to the capitol, Wisconsin state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and other Assembly leadership held a press conference to emphasize their plans to help Wisconsin farmers. Through a combination of existing legislation and new proposals there is an opportunity to put together a comprehensive package to help farmers during these stressful economic times.

“The news today that the Assembly leadership is putting a large focus on agriculture is welcome news,” Bragger said. “Wisconsin agriculture is open to all ideas on how we can keep this state’s rural economy afloat. How exciting is this to have the attention on the agriculture community?"

Carol Spaeth-Bauer at 262-875-9490 or carol.spaeth-bauer@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at cspaethbauer or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/carol.spaethbauer.