Dairy Farmers Urged to Participate in State Budget Process
STEVENS POINT, Wis. – Over the next few weeks, members of the Wisconsin Legislature will work on developing the next biennial budget. During that time, they will receive requests from various interests across the state looking to spend the current $7 billion surplus and the revenue that will be generated over the next two years.
Jennifer Wickman urges everyone in production agriculture, especially dairy farmers, to get involved in this important legislative process by personally contacting their representatives in the State Assembly and Senators, and by attending public hearings on the budget.
“If you’re not at the table in this process, you could end up on the menu,” he warned.
Wickman is the director of Wisconsin government affairs for the Cooperative Network, an organization that advocates for 18 agricultural, electric power, health care and insurance-related cooperatives and their members in the Wisconsin and Minnesota state capitols.
The goal of the Cooperative Network is to ensure there is adequate and increased funding for grower-led watershed grants, cover crop insurance, nitrogen optimization grant program, dairy processor grants, agricultural imports, land conservation Crop and Commodity Food Bank of Wisconsin.
Wichman stressed the need to help state legislators understand 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 an economic impact of $45 billion, which is double that of tourism,” he noted.
She says it’s vital that farmers help legislators meet the needs of rural Wisconsin because there are so few farmers in the legislature. “Currently there are only six active farmers who are members of the legislature. There were 26 new legislators elected in 2022 and only two who are farmers.”
Due to the low number of farmers in the legislature, it means fewer elected officials know what farmers are doing and what they need. “A lot of them don’t understand how crucial agriculture really is,” Wichman said.
“When the chairman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee told his group that more money is needed for rural roads, some other members said that more money should be spent on roads where people live,” he recounted. “They didn’t seem to understand that people who live in cities need food and other wonderful things that come from rural Wisconsin, and those things won’t get to them if we don’t have good country roads.”
Wichman noted that Republicans have long 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.
“Last session, the legislature eliminated several tax brackets in legislation that was ultimately signed by the governor,” he said. “Currently lawmakers are looking at some form of revenue sharing, finding the best way to put more money back to people and local governments. One proposal that appears to be gaining ground is to return 1¢ of 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, surpassing revenue 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 the Assembly, “will start from scratch, fund the right priorities and make responsible fiscal decisions for our state.”
Wisconsin Agricultural Priorities
The Wisconsin Ag Coalition is presenting to the Legislature several important proposals that will help Wisconsin farmers become more efficient and competitive in the global marketplace.
“We are requesting $42 million for agriculture, which is only 0.6% 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 reduce nitrogen and phosphorus that have common-sense rules to make compliance easier,” Wichman said.
• $2 million for cover crops to help farmers get a little more money to grow cover crops that help conserve soil.
• $2 million in grants for dairy processors to improve dairy processing facilities.
• $2 million to increase agricultural exports. “To sell more cheese we have to export more,” Wichman said. “We want to increase cheese exports by 25% by 2026. To achieve this, we need to help people apply for subsidies so they can learn about and produce the types of cheese consumers want in different markets.”
• Request additional funds for farmland conservation. “This is a concept that farmers like, but many feel that the process of registering their land is too long and cumbersome. So we want to streamline the program and add more money to it,” he said.
- Community Food Banks. “We want to put Wisconsin staples in Wisconsin food banks,” Wickman emphasized.
- $400,000 for feasibility studies related to the formation of new cooperatives, such as mobile meat processing facilities and daycare cooperatives. Provide funds to study the feasibility of converting existing businesses to employee ownership; increasing the number of CDL-licensed drivers with scholarships and apprenticeships, and extending the driving season from 180 to 210 days.
- The Wisconsin Farm Coalition is also proposing grants for rural roads, including rural road corridors, with new, improved roads that can handle heavy farm equipment and milk trucks.
Wickman encourages all farmers to contact their representatives and senators and ask them to support more funding for Wisconsin’s agricultural priorities. Contact information for your local legislators is available online at: legis.wisconsin.gov. He can also contact his legislators by calling the legislative hotline at 1-800-362-9472.