MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin’s first-ever “Dairy Day at the Capitol” was held April 10 in Madison, Wis. Hosted by the Dairy Business Association (DBA), the event provided dairy farmers with an opportunity to meet and interact with state lawmakers about issues critical to the dairy industry.
    In attendance were 40 DBA members, including 26 dairy farmers who came from all parts of the state. The day began with a meet and greet by Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) secretary, Brad Pfaff, and Governor Tony Evers, who both expressed their gratitude for farmers’ hard work and thanked the farmers for attending Dairy Day. They spoke to the group about legislative priorities that specifically affect dairy farmers.

    Pfaff, a native of LaCrosse County, comes from a long line of farmers and is committed to maintaining a strong dairy industry in Wisconsin. Pfaff asked attendees for their advice and assistance along with holding him accountable as he works to improve the state’s dairy economy.
    “It’s a phenomenal opportunity to stand here representing the farm men and women of our state,” Pfaff said. “After all, Wisconsin is America’s Dairyland.”
    Pfaff shared facts about dairy’s impact on the state. It makes up nearly half of the state’s agricultural revenue, generating $43 billion of the $88 billion generated by agriculture in Wisconsin. In terms of economic impact on the state, agriculture is second only to manufacturing.
    “One out of every nine people working in this state have a job related in some way, shape or form to agriculture,” Pfaff said. “That is significant. Not everyone in this state recognizes that of course as people are further and further removed from the farm. They don’t know what’s going on, so what do we do? We have to tell our story.”
    Pfaff pushed the Wisconsin brand – a brand known nationally and internationally.
    “The farm is more than just bushes, bales and hundredweights. The farm is something bigger. It’s who we are. It’s our identity. And we need to embrace that. The story of Wisconsin is the story of agriculture. It’s the story of hard work by good and dedicated people. It’s the story of entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity, resilience and risk-taking. That’s what farmers are. And that’s what the Wisconsin brand represents. The brand also embodies all the assets that we have in this state, like soil quality, water, cheese production and more. We are light years ahead when it comes to artisan or specialty cheeses.”
    Pfaff also praised the quality of milk in Wisconsin, citing the recent statewide butterfat average of 4.0 as absolutely amazing. As DATCP speaker, Pfaff promised to listen to farmers’ ideas.

    Where are the opportunities? Pfaff shared there is a greater demand for protein in the world than ever before, particularly from Asia, China and India. Also, the pharmaceutical industry is seeking more dairy products.
    Governor Tony Evers grew up in Plymouth, Wis., a leading cheese processing community. Even though he was not raised on a dairy farm, Evers said he was surrounded by dairy farmers and understands rural communities and agriculture. Prior to his political career, Evers was a teacher in Baraboo and superintendent of schools in Tomah and Oakfield.
    “The work of dairy farmers is amazing,” Evers said. “The change in farming practices over the years has really accelerated. Farmers have done everything the state and country has asked them to, embracing new technology and practices. It’s time for the state to reciprocate that and make sure you have the best resources and opportunities to thrive in the state of Wisconsin. That is a top priority.”
    The governor’s budget includes many local and international marketing initiatives, such as:
    – Wisconsin Initiative for Dairy Exports (WIDE) program: The governor recommends providing $200,000 funding to help build Wisconsin’s dairy brand in international markets and increase dairy exports.
    – Farm to School Grant program: The governor recommends providing $200,000 annually for grants to provide school kids with the opportunity to enjoy Wisconsin dairy products.
    – Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin Grant program: The governor recommends providing an additional $100,000 annually for grants to farms and businesses to help strengthen our state’s agricultural and food industries.
    – Farmer-led watershed grant funding: There are close to 20 farmer-led watershed projects around the state with plans to invest in more. The governor recommends increasing the amount allocated for producer-led watershed grants to $750,000 annually.
    – County conservation staffing: To support local land and water conservation activities, the governor proposes fully funding at least one position in each county and up to 70% for a second position.
    – Nonpoint source pollution funding: Like carbon trading, nutrient trading could be used to reduce the amount of phosphorus and other nutrients that reach surface and groundwater. The governor recommends providing an additional $1.5 million annually for nutrient management cost-sharing grants to counties.
    – Soil and Water Resource Management Bonding Authority: The governor recommends providing $10 million in bonds for grants to counties for implementing land and water resource management plans, which include cost-share grants to landowners.
    Evers would also like to implement the creation of a unique driver’s permit for non-citizen drivers who work on dairy farms. The permits would ensure these farm employees are properly trained, insured and accountable and can get to work safely and legally.
    “This initiative is strictly about workforce,” Evers said. “It has nothing to do with voting. They still will not be allowed to vote.”
    Evers has proposed a large increase in funding for university research, specifically research to advance the dairy industry. He also has ambitious goals around providing more dependable broadband in rural areas. Delivering a sustainable solution to the state’s transportation funding crisis to get roads fixed is also a priority. Evers would like to infuse more than $600 million in new, ongoing revenue to improve state and local highways, roads, bridges, railways, airports and harbors.
    Dairy farmer Paul Fetzer of Fetzer Farms in Elmwood, Wis., attended Dairy Day to be in touch with legislators and help tell the story of agriculture.
    “We have to be there to tell our story,” Fetzer said. “With so few people involved in agriculture today, sharing our story is especially important.”
    A couple of panel discussions followed Evers’ and Pfaff’s session. DBA members were then split up into teams and visited 46 offices for individual discussions with 69 of the state’s 132 lawmakers or members of their staffs. Fetzer, who milks 1,400 cows, found the day to be a successful and productive one.
    “I had some very good discussions with legislators and staff members,” Fetzer said. “I hope the DBA does this again, and next time, I would like to see more farmers get involved. It’s important for legislators to see the faces of the industry. We have to continue telling our story so we don’t get driven out of business by over-regulation or regulation without science.”