Gov. Evers' proposed budget reflects investment in agriculture

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers' budget proposal includes numerous initiatives directly benefitting the agricultural industry and rural economies.

Among the governor's priorities are investing in the future of Wisconsin agriculture, supporting soil and conservation practices, promoting Wisconsin products and helping both farmers and consumers. Many farm families may be heartened to learn the Farm & Industry Short Course may find a new home on the University of Wisconsin River Falls campus.

During a press conference, Wisconsin Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) the governor's budget is in line with the concerns of agriculture sectors around the state.

Randy Romanski

"I've been having conversations with groups, going to many conferences and listening to what their priorities are, as well as seeing some of the comments in the news, and what the Governor has proposed is sounding really similar to a lot of the other priorities these groups have," Romanski said. "I believe it gives us an opportunity to work in a bipartisan way with legislators to make some of these things happen."

According to Romanski, the budget outlines initiatives for conservation programs that includes funding for programs focused on abatement activities such as the Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grant Program that includes $1 million in funding, which matches the current level of funding. Other items include the Nitrogen Optimization Grant Program, and increased funding for rebates for cover crops.

"Farmers are stewards of their land and they are part of the solution to our changing climate practices that they put in place on their land that help conserve the soil and improve water quality," Romanski said. "The governor believes this program has proven its worth...and he's proposing to make that funding permanent."

Romanski says that Wisconsin has had tremendous success with increasing exports over the last couple of years, and that the governor's budget provides $2.8 million in funding over both years of the budget for agricultural export promotion.

Key positions

Since the onset of 2022, over 3 million chickens in Wisconsin have depopulated due to the avian influenza outbreak, taxing the resources of the state's Division of Animal Health. In his budget proposal, Gov. Evers has proposed creating a new Animal Disease Response and Prevention Unit through the department, with six new full-time employees to assist with emergency planning, preparedness and management in future emergencies.

"The highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak takes a lot of time, energy and resources to work with the industry to respond as quickly as possible. And with that various diseases that are out there right now, and that we don't want in our state, we have to prepare and our staff is stretched and we need additional resources," Romanski said.

The Ag Secretary noted that the budget provides funding to make the four interim meat inspector positions permanent, adding that its a a 'great way for the agency to support the meat processing industry'.

Gov. Tony Evers is proposing to continue the Short Course by providing $700,000 in funding to the University of Wisconsin River Falls that will provide instruction and networking opportunities to students. The program held on the UW Madison campus was in danger of significant changes due to declining enrollment.

Short Course revived

While it isn't part of the DATCP budget, Romanski was eager to share that the governor has allotted funding in his budget to continue the Farm & Industry Short Course program.

Concerned Wisconsin agricultural education supporters voiced their opinions on the future of the historic program last spring after learning the on-campus program was in danger due to declining enrollment numbers. University of Madison officials told stakeholders that in order to run an economically successful program, enrollment needed to be around 100 students. Officials pointed out that enrollment in 2022 was just 20 students.

Proposals included creating a shorter more flexible, non-credit format, in start contrast to the for-credit, on-campus residential experience lasting 16 weeks. Supporters contested that the Short Course has deep roots and generational ties to the agriculture and farming communities. 

Romanski said the governor is proposing to continue the Short Course by providing $700,000 in funding to the University of Wisconsin River Falls that will provide instruction and networking opportunities to students.

"The program has provide itself over time and River Falls and UW Madison have been working on how the program would be handed off from one to another," Romanski said. "River Falls would host the program but they would also have partnerships with UW Platteville and UW Madison to continue to provide for this program."

When asked if the River Falls campus would provide housing for Short Course students, Romanski responded that he anticipated that housing was part of the discussion and that details of the partnership were continuing to evolve.