Gov. Evers visits Brodhead cheese plant, Janesville farm

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Master cheesemaker Steve Stettler leads Governor Tony Evers and DATCP Secretary-designee Randy Romanski on a tour of Decatur Dairy's cheese plant June 17, 2021.

Gov. Evers visited Decatur Dairy and Roger Rebout & Sons Farm June 17 to talk about funding for Wisconsin's agriculture industry.

Decatur Dairy was one of 15 businesses to receive a Dairy Processor Grant from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection this year. Steve Stettler, master cheesemaker at Decatur Dairy and head of the operation for more than 30 years, said they'll be using the $20,000 grant to build more storage space for their facilities.

"We're looking at a storage cooler, a warm room for our products, such as Stettler Swiss, Colby Swiss, and then a curing room," Stettler said. "We're OK on production. It's just all the stuff that goes with production that we don't have room for. ... We've grown to the point where we have so many varieties that we make, I got to have room to store that stuff."

Stettler also said he's happy about the state's investments in agriculture, especially in dairy farming and processing, because it relieves a lot of pressure in the business.

"His programs have been really good for ag," Stettler said. "If we do get into this project, it would be a godsend if we can get some relief on some of the funding for that project. ... And in our state, I don't think that money goes to waste, it gets put to good use."

Evers was joined by DATCP Secretary-designee Randy Romanski, Wisconsin Department of Tourism Acting Secretary Anne Sayers and multiple members of the state legislature, including Sen. Ringhand (D-Evansville), Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) and Rep. Don Vruwink (D-Milton).

The group first sat down with Stettler and others at Decatur Dairy, then took a tour of the cheese plant. After that, they headed to the Rebout farm, where farm owner and operator Doug Rebout talked to Gov. Evers about various rural and farm issues, like the impending drought and poor broadband service, as well as family.

"Family and farming, they go together," Rebout said. He runs the farm with his mom, brothers and other family members.

Doug Rebout, partner at Roger Rebout & Sons Farm, talks to Gov. Tony Evers on a tour of the farm June 17, 2021.

Evers said he hopes to give farm families more stability and support with his $43 million budget proposal for the Wisconsin agriculture industry. However, the Wisconsin legislature has picked apart many of his proposals for agriculture and otherwise – Evers said he asked for $1 million for meat processors, but the legislature only approved $200,000. The Associated Press reported that Evers said vetoing the entire budget is "on the table."

The agriculture and tourism industries suffered the most from the pandemic's economic effects, Evers said. He said agriculture is a bipartisan issue that the Republican-controlled legislature should agree on supporting. He added that he has another iteration of the WI Farm Support Program in the works.

"Whatever we can do to help the agriculture industry, we will continue to do that," Evers said. "I think it'd be pretty close to the first round (of the program) ... except for frankly the amount of money, I think was $5,000 per (farm). I think the distribution system worked out well. But I know we've got time to figure that out."

Evers said he will also continue to bring attention to the difficulties Wisconsin farmers and rural communities face throughout his re-election campaign for 2022.

"When we talk about agriculture, we talk about small towns. ... It's going to take a lot of money," Evers said. "There's no magic way to get broadband across the state of Wisconsin, and we need to do that as quickly as possible as part of the daily work of farmers. ... We're not waiting until the election to advocate for these people, we're advocating right now."

Other dairy processors receiving DATCP grants included Caprine Supreme (Black Creek); Carr Valley Cheese Co. (La Valle); Chalet Cheese (Monroe); Clock Shadow Creamery (Milwaukee); Foremost Farms (Baraboo); Henning Cheese (Kiel); Highfield Farm Creamery (Walworth); K&K Cheese (Cashton); Maple Leaf Cheese (Monroe); Nasonville Dairy (Marshfield); Rolling Hills Dairy (Monroe); Uplands Cheese (Dodgeville); Widmers Cheese (Theresa); and Zimmerman Cheese (South Wayne).

$200,000 total was available for this year's grants with a cap of $50,000 per grant. Overall, DATCP received 18 grant requests totaling more than $630,000. Evers has proposed increasing the annual dairy processor grant budget to $600,000.

"Dairy processors are key to bolstering Wisconsin's position as a national and global leader in the dairy industry," Romanski said in a press release. "Our processors need to constantly innovate and adapt to changing times. These grants are designed to help processors accomplish those goals and continue contributing to Wisconsin's thriving dairy industry."