Wis. Gov. Tony Evers recently proposed a $43 million investment in Wisconsin’s agricultural economy to be included in the state’s 2021-2023 biennial budget. The plan proposes creating and-or funding several programs to expand local- and international-market opportunities.
- Create and fund the Wisconsin Initiative for Agricultural Exports.
- Increase funding for the Dairy Processor Grant Program by $1.2 million during the biennium, which strategically invests in Wisconsin dairy processors to support innovation, jobs and the competitiveness of Wisconsin’s dairy industry.
- Invest $20 million to help connect Wisconsin food banks and pantries with Wisconsin producers to provide food to families experiencing food insecurity.
- Fund the Farm-to-School Grant Program to use locally produced foods in school cafeterias across Wisconsin.
- Create and fund a Farm-to-Fork program to build connections between farmers and non-school entities interested in purchasing local food for cafeterias.
- Increase funding for the Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin program, which provides grants to farmers and businesses to increase the sale of Wisconsin-produced agricultural goods.
- Provide additional funding for Something Special from Wisconsin, a branded marketing program available to businesses that can attribute at least 50 percent of their ingredients, production or processing activities to Wisconsin.
- Create and fund a Small Farm Diversity Grant Program designed to support producers adding new products, increasing production of an agricultural product where market opportunities exist or starting a new farming operation.
The governor proposes investing more than $2 million in the Wisconsin Initiative for Agricultural Exports during the biennium. He also proposes adding one position to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s International Agribusiness Center in 2022, and another position in 2023.
The proposed investment is an opportunity to build on the department’s International Agribusiness Center’s efforts, said Randy Romanski, secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
“The team has solid relationships internationally and good connections to Wisconsin’s industry; it’s a great place to start,” he said.
The proposed additional funding would help boost export opportunities for a wide variety of Wisconsin agricultural products, he said. The international-agribusiness center’s team conducts outreach with businesses and other potential industry partners in Wisconsin. One of its goals is to prepare Wisconsin companies for international-marketing opportunities.
Wis. Rep. Tony Kurtz, R-50-Wonewoc, and Wis. Rep. Loren Oldenburg, R-96-Viroqua, introduced a bill in 2020 that proposed increased funding for expansion of agricultural exports, said Wis. Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-41-Markesan. She’s the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Tourism.
The bill proposed increasing spending from $1 million to $5 million. Half of that would have been invested in dairy exports and the other half would expand markets for cranberries, beef, soybeans, corn and other crops. The bill had been approved by the Assembly in 2020 but the Senate canceled its regular session when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. No further action was taken.
“I’d like to see better cooperation between the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation when it comes to export opportunities,” Ballweg said. “There should be better coordination because they’re already doing some of that work independently. Could we get a bigger bang for our buck by working together? Is there a way the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation can allocate resources that should really focus on our agriculture economy?”
Dairy Processor Grant Program to be bolstered
The governor is proposing increased funding for the Dairy Processor Grant Program – by $1.2 million during the biennium. The program has existed since 2014; the year 2021 will mark the eighth time grants will be awarded.
“We’ve received many more applications than funding available,” Romanski said. “There’s a lot of interest and need out there.”
The department has received more than 100 applications requesting a total of more than $4 million in funding.
Grant programs proposed
The governor proposes $400,000 in grants during the biennium for the Farm-to-School program and more than $550,000 during the biennium for a Farm-to-Fork Grant program. The governor also proposes adding a position to the latter program for the purpose of connecting entities that operate cafeterias with farms that can provide locally sourced food.
The programs present market opportunities because Wisconsin farmers raise and process so many kinds of foods, Romanski said.
Wis. Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-6-Bonduel, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Agriculture, said of the proposed budget that everything needs to be balanced. It will be reviewed by the legislative fiscal bureau. The joint finance committee also will hold public hearings on the budget for further analysis.
Wisconsin’s farms and agricultural businesses generate about $105 billion in economic activity. So the governor’s proposal for investing $43 million in agriculture is appropriate, Tauchen said.
Wis. Sen. Brad Pfaff, D-32-Onalaska, is a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Tourism.
“There’s a lot in the budget that will assist everyone in the state,” Pfaff said. “There’s investment for now and for the long term. I’m excited about the governor’s commitment to expand opportunities. It’s a win-win-win-win for farmers, small businesses, consumers and the state’s economy.”
Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.