Gov. Evers announces $43 million investment in Wisconsin agriculture
Governor Tony Evers aims to allocate $43 million for Wisconsin's ag economy in the state's 2021-23 biennial budget.
The Governor announced Friday morning that the funding will go towards "expanding market opportunities, supporting new and innovative farming practices, strengthening the agricultural workforce, connecting local producers to foodbanks and pantries, and supporting farmer mental health and wellbeing," a press release said.
A breakdown of the funding initiative emphasized investment in market opportunities, fortifying local meat processing, promoting conservation and supporting mental health. This follows last year's creation of the Office of Rural Prosperity and the establishment of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity, which aims to improve the economies of Wisconsin's rural farming communities.
"Our agricultural industry is Wisconsin's past and present, and it will be our future," Gov. Evers said. "Our proud farming history is core to our state's culture and people, and Wisconsin farmers have carried and supported our state economy for generations. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and then throughout this pandemic, our farmers and producers were fighting every day to save their farms and to save their industry while helping us put food on our tables. It’s time to join in this fight for Wisconsin’s farmers and their families and agricultural industries to ensure future economic prosperity our rural communities and our entire state."
Under new market opportunities and expansions, the governor will focus on both domestic and international markets by creating new programs and increasing funding for existing programs. Those new programs include the Wisconsin Initiative for Agriculture Exports, Farm-to-Fork program and the Small Farm Diversity Grant Program.
Larger investments will be made in the Dairy Processor Grant Program (by $1.2 million), the Farm-to-School Grant Program, the Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin program and the Something Special from Wisconsin program.
In support of Wisconsin's local meat processors, the governor also directed the creation of the Meat Processor Grant program that will "target the needs of the meat industry, incentivize innovation and expand Wisconsin’s overall meat processing capacity." Another new addition is the Meat Talent Development Program which will bolster the state's workforce development in the meat industry.
More food inspector positions will soon be available at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to accommodate the planned growth of the industry.
On conservation, Gov. Evers announced the Value-Added Agricultural Grant Program, the Water Stewardship Grants program and the Conservation Grant Program. Additionally, more funding will be coming to the Producer-Led Watershed Grant Program as well as various county extension agent offices.
Gov. Evers also pledged to help improve farmers' mental health through the new Regional Farmer Mental Health Program, which will make support services and resources more accessible to farmers. He also confirmed continued investment in the Farmer Mental Health Assistance Program, which introduced a 24/7 counseling hotline and other counseling services in 2019.
Wisconsin Farmers Union praised Evers for the initiative. WFU president Darin Von Ruden said that the state's farming communities "are in dire need of investment," adding that it was reassuring to see a commitment to these communities.
"This $43 million investment confirms Governor Evers’ strong support of Wisconsin agriculture and rural communities, and checks off many of the budget priorities WFU expressed to the governor’s team in recent months," said Nick Levendofsky, director of government relations at WFU. "We are grateful for this show of support for critical topics like rural mental health, meat processing infrastructure, and expansion of market opportunities for farmers. We look forward to working with Governor Evers, DATCP, members of the Joint Finance Committee, Assembly and Senate to advance these and many other WFU budget priorities."
The Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association also applauded the move, noting that it will help Wisconsin's food producers continuing building business and "provide critical infrastructure."
"With this budget, Governor Evers is working to stabilize and strengthen Wisconsin agriculture now and for decades to come," said John Umhoefer, executive director of WCMA. "We applaud smart plans to address the market volatility and food insecurity triggered by the pandemic – concerns we hope are short-lived – and to ensure that Wisconsin farmers and food processors discover growth through export endeavors and innovation."
The Dairy Business Association commended the investment in a press release. DBA president Amy Penterman especially highlighted the Wisconsin Initiative for Agricultural Exports, the continued assistance to the state's food banks, the bolstering of meat processors and support for farmer-led conservation groups.
"Investments in our farmers and processors are critically important to the strength of Wisconsin’s rural communities and the state’s economy overall. The budget plan by Governor Evers shows that he clearly understands this," Penterman said. "Lawmakers in both parties who last session, and already this session, laid the groundwork for many of these programs also deserve praise for their commitment."
Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation also released a statement saying they were "pleased" to see Gov. Evers reaffirm his commitment to helping Wisconsin's rural communities and farmers, especially meat processors.
"Local meat processing needs has become a key issue for Farm Bureau members across the entire state. Support for current meat processors through additional DATCP inspector positions is much needed," WFBF president Kevin Krentz said. "Additionally, encouraging meat processing careers and expansion through the Meat Processing Grant Program will help our state build out this infrastructure."
State Senator Brad Pfaff (D-Onalaska), former DATCP secretary, called the move a "historic investment."
"Agriculture has been the backbone of our state for over a century. It employs one in nine Wisconsinites and contributes nearly $105 billion to Wisconsin's economy every year. Farming is in the fabric of our rural communities, and this proposal is a catalyst for success well into the future," Sen. Pfaff said. "I'm ready to work with Governor Evers and my colleagues in the legislature to get things done. I will fight for every dollar that supports a farmer, farm family, local producer and rural resident."
The budget address in the state legislature is set for Feb. 16.
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