OPINION The new Wisconsin state budget will empower farmers and others to innovate in ways that position America’s Dairyland for long-term success. Funding for a Dairy Innovation Hub and more grants for farmer-led conservation work are both items the Dairy Business Association pushed for aggressively.

The two-year budget invests $8.8 million in the Dairy Innovation Hub, a new program to be led by the University of Wisconsin-System for a broad range of research at its agricultural colleges. The budget also doubles the amount of money to $1 million for an existing grant program to help farmers find solutions to water-quality challenges.

Keeping our dairy community healthy requires investment – by farmers, by processors, by lenders, by the state and by many others who play vital roles in America’s Dairyland. Budgets demonstrate priorities. By including the Dairy Innovation Hub in the newly signed spending plan, state leaders have made a strong statement that our dairy economy, our rural communities and our identity as the Dairy State matter.

Through next-generation research in areas such as land and water use, health and nutrition, and integrating farm businesses, the dairy hub will keep us on a track toward long-term success. We look forward to continuing to work with UW and lawmakers to bring the hub to life. There are a lot of great things to come for our dairy community.

Many folks came together to make this happen. We were proud to play a leadership role in a coalition of stakeholders that included the Cooperative Network, Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, UW, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau and the Wisconsin Farmers Union. We also want to thank lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for recognizing the importance of the program and ensuring it was funded.

We applaud Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and the Joint Finance Committee for recognizing the value of empowering farmers through the Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grant Program. The program is one of the best ways the state can support farmer efforts to protect and improve water quality. The grants, which nonprofit farmer-led conservation groups must match, will go a long way in supplementing things like cost-share programs for scientific research and innovative manure-management practices.

Wisconsin’s dairy farmers are taking the lead on addressing water-quality challenges in our state. A growing number of voluntary watershed-based groups are making remarkable progress in identifying solutions that make sense for their regions. Farmers are challenging each other to continuously improve through innovation and to scientifically measure results. Keeping our water clean takes a community-wide effort, and farmers are demonstrating a commitment to doing their part. We all want clean water.

Through our involvement with the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance, the Dairy Business Association is proud to have helped launch and now closely support several watershed groups around the state. It’s exciting to see the passion in those efforts.

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Tom Crave, a farmer and cheesemaker in south-central Wisconsin, is president of the Dairy Business Association, a dairy-lobby group in Wisconsin focused on advocating for sensible state laws and regulations that affect the dairy community. Visit www.dairyforward.com for more information.