Dairy farmers urged to become involved in state budget process
STEVENS POINT, Wis. – Over the next several weeks members of the Wisconsin Legislature will be working on developing the next biennial budget. During that time they’ll be receiving requests from various interests around the state looking to spend the current $7 billion surplus and revenue that will be generated over the next two years.
Jennifer Wickman is urging everyone in production agriculture, especially dairy producers, to become involved in this important legislative process by personally contacting their Assembly representatives and state Senators, and by attending public hearings on the budget.
“If you’re not at the table on this process, you could end up on the menu,” she warned.
Wickman is the Wisconsin governmental affairs director for the Cooperative Network, an organization that advocates for 18 cooperatives related to agriculture, electric power, health care and insurance, and their members, in the state Capitols of Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The goal of the Cooperative Network is to ensure there is adequate and increased funding for producer-led watershed grants, cover-crop insurance, nitrogen optimization grant program, dairy processor grants, ag imports, farmland preservation, and the Wisconsin commodity food bank.
Wichman stressed the necessity of helping state legislators learn about the important role agriculture plays in the state’s overall economy. “Agriculture generates $104 billion for the Wisconsin economy, and creates 435,000 jobs. Dairy has a $45 billion economic impact, which is twice as much as tourism,” she noted.
She says it’s vital that farmers help legislators learn about the needs of rural Wisconsin because there are so few farmers in the legislature. “There are currently only six active farmers who are members of the legislature. There were 26 new legislators elected in 2022 and only two who are farmers.”
Because of the low number of farmers in the legislature it means fewer elected officials know what farmers are doing and what they need. “Many of them don’t understand how crucial agriculture really is,” Wichman stated.
“When the chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee told his caucus that more money is needed for rural roads, some other members said more money should be spent on roads where people actually live,” she related. “They didn’t seem to understand that people living in cities need food and the other great things that come from rural Wisconsin, and those things won’t get to them if we don’t have good rural roads.”
Wichman noted that for a long time Republicans have wanted to reduce the tax burden on Wisconsin residents as a way to attract more people to our state and, hopefully, keep more retirees from leaving.
“In the last session, the legislature eliminated several tax brackets in legislation that was ultimately signed by the governor,” she said. “Legislators are currently looking at some type of revenue sharing – finding the best way give more money back to individuals and local governments. One proposal that seems to be gaining traction is giving back 1¢ of the state sales tax to local units of government.”
The Wisconsin Policy Forum research group’s analysis of Governor Evers’ recent budget proposal called it “the largest spending increase ever, exceeding revenues by nearly $5.3 billion in 2024 and $1.3 billion in 2025.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Legislative Republicans, who control both the Senate and Assembly, “Will start from scratch, funding the right priorities and make responsible fiscal choices for our state.”
Wisconsin ag priorities
The Wisconsin Ag Coalition is presenting the Legislature with several important proposals that will help Wisconsin farmers become more efficient and more competitive in the global market.
“We’re requesting $42 million for agriculture which is only .6% of the $7 billion budget surplus,” Wickman said.
• $2 million for producer watershed grants to improve soil and water quality. “Our goal is to develop practical, farmer-led voluntary programs that will reduce nitrogen and phosphorus that have commonsense rules to make compliance easier,” Wichman related.
• $2 million for cover crops to help farmers get a little more money for planting cover crops that help conserve soil.
• $2 million in dairy processor grants to improve dairy processing facilities.
• $2 million to increase ag exports. “To sell more cheese we have to export more,” said Wichman. “We want to increase cheese exports 25% by 2026. To do that we need to help people apply for grants so they can learn about and produce the types of cheeses consumers in different markets want.”
• Request additional funding for farmland preservation. “This is a concept farmers like but many feel the process of enrolling their land is too long and cumbersome. So we want to streamline the program and add more money to it,” she said.
- Community Food Banks. “We want to put Wisconsin commodities into Wisconsin food banks,” Wickman stressed.
- $400,000 for feasibility studies regarding the formation of new cooperative such as for mobil meat processing facilities and daycare cooperatives. Providing funding to study the feasibility of converting existing businesses to employee owned; growing the number of CDL licensed drivers with scholarships and apprenticeships, and expanding the driving season from 180 to 210 days.
- The Wisconsin Ag Coalition is also proposing grant funding for rural roads Including Rural Road Corridors with new improved roads that can handle heavy farm machinery and milk trucks.
Wickman encourages all farmers to contact the Representatives and Senators and ask them to support more funding for Wisconsin agricultural priorities. Contact information for your local legislators is available online at: legis.wisconsin.gov. You can also reach your legislators by calling the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-362-9472.