70th District Assemblywoman Nancy Vandermeer meets with members of the Monroe County Farm Bureau – (from left) Jack Herricks, Jim Herricks and Scott Schmitz – on Jan. 24 during Wisconsin Farm Bureau’s Ag Day at the Capitol in Madison, Wis.
70th District Assemblywoman Nancy Vandermeer meets with members of the Monroe County Farm Bureau – (from left) Jack Herricks, Jim Herricks and Scott Schmitz – on Jan. 24 during Wisconsin Farm Bureau’s Ag Day at the Capitol in Madison, Wis. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
    MADISON, Wis. – Members of Wisconsin’s agricultural community descended on downtown Madison Jan. 24, taking part in the Wisconsin Farm Bureau’s Ag Day at the Capitol program. Producers were afforded the opportunity to visit with lawmakers about issues that are pressing in agriculture.
    The day kicked off at the Monona Terrace with a visit from Governor Scott Walker who acknowledged the importance of agriculture in Wisconsin’s economy.
    “Back in 2007, the economic impact of agriculture in this state was a little over $40 billion,” Walker said. “The recent update of that from the UW-Extension is that agriculture now has an economic impact of over $88 billion in the state of Wisconsin. That’s pretty remarkable.”
    Walker spoke about his programs and plans for creating growth in rural communities, which were part of an executive order he signed following the speech.
    Walker explained his plan, which centers around creating a Rural Economic Development Fund, a $50 million dollar per year investment into economic development projects throughout the rural areas of the state.
    “One of the consistent things I hear are concerns about a lot of our small towns,” Walker said.
    The plan also re-purposes the Dairy 30x20 program into the Governor’s Family Farm Fund, which will increase support conservation programs and includes investments to help increase dairy profitability in local, regional and international markets. The Governor’s Family Fund will also include a scholarship program available to students studying agriculture at a Wisconsin technical college or a UW-College of Agriculture.
    “We’ve seen that not enough young people are going into farming, to take over the vast number of family farms that we have in this state,” Walker said. “Our hope would be that with these funds, we can target students who are graduating from rural high schools and going on to pursue a career in ag-related studies. We hope to help these students, providing one more incentive for young people to go into agriculture.
    Property tax relief has been a concern for farm owners and Walker shared that for the first time since 1931, the state portion of property taxes was eliminated.
    “Not only does this help keep property taxes down, it’s permanent tax relief. No one’s going to put it back on. That’s pretty important,” Walker said.
    Walker spoke about the continued work to develop fair and free trade, chronicled in his executive order.
    “We believe in free trade,” Walker said. “It’s incredibly important and we’ve expressed that to the federal administrations, the Trump Administration and Congress. We also know, along with free trade, it needs to be fair. We saw an example of that last year with ultra-filtered milk.”
    Walker touted his plan for increased spending in rural education adding an addition $200 per student to school funding, and on top of that an additional $204 per student in rural schools. He highlighted his plan to increase sparsity aid payments to eligible low-revenue schools to the tune of $6.5 million in the next school year.
    Healthcare and its impact on rural communities ranked high on Walker’s agenda, including coverage of pre-existing conditions and ensuring that Senior Care will remain available.
    “The vast majority of folks on farms are buying their health insurance on the individual markets, and they don’t have all the benefits of the higher volume that typically drives down premiums,” Walker said. “We are working to create a reinsurance plan to drive down costs on the individual market, making it comparable to the group markets.”
    Attendees were briefed on legislative updates in regards to the status of bills that impact farmers from across the state, including the transfer of CAFO regulatory authority from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). Other issues highlighted included NR-151, industrial hemp, the Agricultural Producer Security Program (APS), wolf management, wetland management and the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium (WLIC).
    Following the legislative briefings, producers went to the Capitol to meet with legislators and staff for small group listening sessions.
    The Monroe County Farm Bureau delegation, led by Cashton, Wis., dairy farmer Jack Herricks, headed to the Capitol to meet with the 70th District Assembly Representative Nancy Vandermeer and her staff.
    The Monroe County delegation had questions and concerns regarding transportation and the implements of husbandry laws.
    “As a dairy farmer, our concern is to control our cost of production,” Jack said. “If there is more labor involved in hauling our milk, our costs are going to go way up. Our local milk haulers would like to see the harvest rules applied year-round, instead of just nine months of the year, to help keep costs down.”
    Tim and Brittany Herricks operate a manure spreading business in Monroe County, and they have faced issues in regards to gray areas in the interpretation of the implements of husbandry laws.
    “It’s hard,” Brittany said. “There are so many gray areas in regards to the Department of Transportation and our types of implements of husbandry. It’s hard to figure out what we can and cannot do. The licensing issues are unclear.”
    Another concern voiced by the group was regarding lighting on horse-drawn vehicles as a safety issue.
    “I know from driving milk truck that in different areas, the buggies are lit differently,” milk truck driver Jim Herricks said. “A lot of time they aren’t marked well enough and it’s hard to see them. It’s a big safety concern for us.”
    Wisconsin beekeeper Tony Bowers spoke to Vandermeer about the issues facing the bee populations, noting the importance of bees in agriculture for pollination.
    Members of the Monroe County group voiced their approval of the transfer of CAFO regulatory authority to the Wisconsin DATCP.
    “I think that’s a well-rounded area, with the right people heading up overseeing the permitting,” Jim said.
    “We appreciate this time. I think it’s important for you to hear the personal stories of these people, all involved in different aspects of agriculture in Monroe County,” Jack said to Vandermeer. “And to hear the things that face them every day in their businesses.