Pfaff and Evers kick off June Dairy Month, tout ag spending in proposed budget

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Dairy farmer Hans Breitenmoser, right, gives Sen. Brad Pfaff and Governor Tony Evers, center, a tour the Breitenmoser Family Farm in Merrill on June 2.

As Governor Tony Evers touted Wisconsin's rich dairy heritage during a stop at a Merrill dairy farm on June 2 to kick of June Dairy Month, he warned that the state's future is at stake.

During a visit to the Breitenmoser Family Farm, Evers spoke of committing more than $43 million in the 2021-23 budget to support agriculture and farm families in Wisconsin.

Evers' budget plan outlines a number of steps to support farmers, expand market opportunities, connect local producers to food banks and pantries as well as other measures. 

"Our future is on the line in Madison as we speak," Evers said, alluding to the budget battle brewing with the GOP controlled legislature. "We cannot allow the Legislature to blow it off, saying "There is a pandemic here, we can't afford it" or "This is a no-increase budget". That's just not the Wisconsin way."

Evers says the $43 million earmarked in the 2021-23 budget is the largest increase in agriculture spending that the state has seen in many years.

"These are all important things. Whether its making sure farmers are able to provide leadership to each other as they find the best strategies possible to make sure that the soil and water is left in the same condition for generations to come...investments in new markets or broadband access."

Evers applauded the work of Republican lawmakers in the past for providing resources for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to help work with state businesses in marketing their products beyond state boundaries.

"We need to make sure that they have the resources so they can do the work that it takes to expand markets across the world for Wisconsin dairy products," Evers said. "There has to be an answer from the federal government too, but we just can't stand by and wait for something to happen in D.C."

Senator Brad Pfaff, D-Onalaska, joined Gov. Evers in the press conference, adding that as a ranking member of the Senate Agriculture and Tourism Committee, he worked with the governor to develop several provisions of the budget proposal, including increased mental health access for rural families.

Pfaff says the dairy industry contributes more than $45 billion of the $105 billion that agriculture brings to the state's economy every year.

"If a budget is supposed to be a reflection of our state’s values, then investing in agriculture and dairy needs to be at the top of the list,” said Pfaff, adding provisions such as the proposed meat processor grants is a "win, win, win."

“A win for our farmers, finding another market for their livestock. It’s a win for the consumers because who doesn’t like good summer sausage or kielbasa from the local butcher shop. And it’s good for our communities because it’s another local business, locally owned.”

The Joint Finance Committee will continue to deliberate on budget items this month, and the final budget must be authorized by the Governor and both chambers of the State Legislature.

However, Republican lawmakers are crafting their own budget, leaving Evers to consider the possibility of vetoing the entire state budget drafted by the GOP, something no governor has done in 90 years. 

“That’s too early to tell, but that is always an option,” Evers told reporters. “That is on the table.”

Also included in Evers' budget plan: 

  • $20 million to help connect Wisconsin food banks and pantries with producers to provide food to families experiencing food insecurity.
  • Fund the Farm-to-School Grant Program to get fresh, nutritious, locally produced foods into school cafeterias across Wisconsin.
  • Create and fund a Small Farm Diversity Grant Program, which is designed to support producers adding new products, increasing production of products where market opportunities exist or starting a new farming operation entirely.
  • Increasing funding for the Producer-Led Watershed Grant Program, which supports farmer groups working collaboratively to address local water issues.
  • Create a new Regional Farmer Mental Health Program to help increase farmers’ access to mental health support services, coordinate local and regional peer support programs and provide counseling and assistance to Wisconsin farmers.
  • Providing ongoing funding for the Farmer Mental Health Assistance Program, which supports a 24/7 counseling service, tele-counseling