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Farmers discuss problems pre-Biden visit

Farmers discuss problems pre-Biden visit

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ONALASKA – A group of Republican lawmakers and local farmers spoke June 28 regarding concerns they have with the industry, ahead of a visit from President Joe Biden. The president planned to focus on agriculture and infrastructure topics.

The group expressed concerns regarding some new Biden proposals such as the increased taxes on inherited wealth – sometimes known as the “death” or “heritage” tax – as well as the effects of environmental regulations, workforce shortages, supply-chain issues, increases in technology costs and more.

Derrick Van Orden, R-Prairie du Chien, a candidate for Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District, said he’s taking about seven key issues raised by farmers back to his staff to find solutions.

“We have to get politics out of the way and allow these farmers to continue producing food for all of us,” Van Orden said.

At the meeting at Morning Star Dairy in Onalaska, farmers from around the Coulee Region shared stories about struggling to hire skilled labor, concerns that unemployment benefits are keeping many from seeking work, and frustrations that a lack in funding for trade schools isn’t producing the correct labor to support the advancing industry.

“Labor-wise? It’s a big challenge,” said David Koudelka, who operates a nearby farm-retail business.

Wis. Rep. Loren Oldenburg, R-96-Viroqua, agreed.

“Labor, I believe, is a main issue in farming right now that we have to address,” he said.

Other farmers said it’s been difficult to access the supplies they need in time, and that consumer knowledge of agricultural products needs to be improved. The group emphasized the role farmers and the agricultural industry play in protecting the environment, but said the current structure of regulations plays into a “broken circle” that hurts farmers.

Kevin Hoyer, Republican, La Crosse County supervisor and local farmer, said as a farmer his No. 1 goal is to “get the work done right.” But he’s seen the bureaucratic process to implement some environmental goals be in the way.

“As (farmers) ... we are stewards of the land. I mean, we are going to try and do our best to our best ability to keep good-quality water,” said Oldenburg, who is also an area farmer. “As a state Legislature, we have to keep addressing these issues and do our best to protect the environment, but also to protect these thriving businesses.”

A tax increase proposed by Biden was top of mind for the group, many of whom were part of intergenerational farming families. John Schaller, owner of Morning Star, said that particular measure makes him the most uneasy as he looks to pass his farm on to his son.

“In order to keep these family farms going they have to be able to pass it on to the rest of the family, and when they have this death tax in there it makes it nearly impossible or very, very, very, very difficult,” Schaller said.

Republicans were critical of the boost to unemployment benefits implemented during the pandemic, which many conservatives have argued is keeping individuals from returning to work. Meanwhile those on the left say workforce issues are the result of low wages and a new outlook on work-life balance among workers, prompted by their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wis. Sen. Patrick Testin, R-24-Stevens Point, encouraged farmers at the roundtable to bring their workforce-shortage issues to Wis. Gov. Ton Evers.

He said after the pandemic, “we should be finding ways to get the boot of government off your backs, as opposed to trying to find ways to put more pressure on.”

Republicans expressed hope the country can grow on the trade deals made during the Trump administration.

“People do not realize those five countries we made deals with are Wisconsin’s top-five agricultural exports,” said Wis. Rep. Tony Kurtz, R-50-Wonewoc. “So it is critical that we keep those trade deals in place. We need to grow on those trade packs because they do benefit those farmers.”

After the roundtable discussion officials took a brief tour of one of Morning Star Dairy’s barns.

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