Wisconsin’s farmers and our dairy economy are at a crossroads. Will we continue to be America’s Dairyland or fall behind competitors like California or Vermont? If history is any guide, a clear plan with decisive action is in order.
Twenty years ago, we were on the ropes. Our elected leaders neglected to heed warning sign after warning sign. Soon, states like California were pulling ahead.
A decade ago, as a member of the state Assembly, I was proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with our farmers and cheesemakers writing and adopting pro-dairy and pro-agriculture laws, like the dairy and livestock investment credit (2009 Act 294).
Under Governor Walker’s tenure we lost thousands of family farms — in fact, Western Wisconsin led the nation in family farm bankruptcies, and farmer suicides skyrocketed. That is unacceptable. Fortunately, Gov. Tony Evers has taken important steps to help our dairy farmers and agricultural producers survive and thrive again.
Dairy is the largest slice of the agricultural economy with an overall economic impact of $23 Billion. We need to make our family farmers and our dairy economy a priority. Criss-crossing our state I’ve been on our farms, met with farmers, and listened to the needs of our rural communities and agricultural producers. We share the same values and priorities.
We need a consistent application of rules and laws. As a small business owner, I understand how farmers feel. Farmers are on the job 24 – 7. There is no downtime. They need a regulatory code that is understandable and easy to apply to their practices. Farmers are the original conservationists. There is no reason why they can’t carry that mantle in the 21st century, provided the state and the DNR protect our air and water quality consistently and fairly, instead of allowing polluters to get away with destroying our natural resources.
We need immigration reform now. Like the German and Scandinavian immigrants before them, today’s immigrants have built our dairy economy and created the industry’s foundation which supports over 40,000 dairy jobs and generates over $2 billion in wages. These jobs can be found on seed farms, at implement dealers, on dairy farms, in feed mills, in cheese plants – the list goes on.
We need adequately fund our state’s infrastructure, not just in cities and high-population centers, but in rural, farming communities. The expression farm-to-market is true today as it was one hundred years ago. Heavy traffic moves in and out of our farms and cheese plants: milk trucks, semis, tractors, farm implements. The agriculture community depends on a reliable, well-built road and bridge system.
Although Senate District 26 is an urban one, our fates our connected to rural communities and land. Wisconsin’s economy and heritage demand that all legislators – including those representing urban and suburban areas – make supporting our small farmers and dairy industry a priority. They feed us, after all.