Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Wisconsin farmer and cheesemakers groups are applauding Gov. Tony Evers’ $43 million budget plan to help the state ag industry. 

Almost half of the dollars would help connect food banks and pantries with state producers. Evers said the $20 million effort impacting food banks and pantries would help families fight hunger. 

“Many Wisconsin residents are struggling to afford wholesome and nutritious food because of lost jobs and business closures due to the pandemic. The federal Farmers to Families Food Box program last year helped families survive and also assisted farmers by boosting demand for milk and cheese. This new investment would provide another lifeline,” said Dairy Business Association President Amy Penterman, who farms with her family in northwestern Wisconsin. 

DBA pointed to a number of other items proposed by Evers, including $2 million to create the Wisconsin Initiative for Agricultural Exports and $1.2 million for the Dairy Processor Grant Program. 

“Long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and then throughout this pandemic, our farmers and producers were fighting every day to save their farms and to save their industry while helping us put food on our tables,” Evers said. “It’s time to join in this fight for Wisconsin’s farmers and their families and agricultural industries to ensure future economic prosperity, our rural communities and our entire state.”

The budget plan also proposes new programs to address farmer mental health, including a regional program to increase access to mental health support services and ongoing funding for the Farmer Mental Health Assistance Program. The effort includes around-the-clock counseling, vouchers for counseling, and help for farmer peer-support networks.

The proposal also includes a three-pronged approach to helping local meat processing. That includes grants and an incentive program to help expand capacity, help develop the industry’s workforce, and adding food inspector positions at DATCP.

The Wisconsin Farmers Union offered strong praise for the package of initiatives that it says aims to boost market opportunities, infrastructure and innovation across rural Wisconsin, which President Darin Von Ruden said has been in decline for decades and in dire need of investment.

“We are grateful for this show of support for critical topics like rural mental health, meat processing infrastructure, and expansion of market opportunities for farmers,” said WFU Government Relations Director Nick Levendofsky. “We look forward to working with Governor Evers, DATCP, members of the Joint Finance Committee, Assembly, and Senate to advance these and many other WFU budget priorities.” 

The ag proposal would also give dollars to farmer-led conservation efforts and fund additional UW-Extension agents.

Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association members applaud the guv’s plans to address market volatility and food insecurity triggered by the pandemic. Executive Director John Umhoefer said the proposals ensure that both Wisconsin farmers and food processors discover growth through export endeavors and innovation.

“A stronger agricultural economy means a stronger Wisconsin,” he said.  “Governor Evers’ budget proposal will help dairy farmers and dairy processors continue to build their businesses, providing family-supporting jobs and critical infrastructure for our state’s rural communities.”

Evers introduces his complete two-year budget plan to the Legislature on Feb. 16.

See the release:

-By Stephanie Hoff

WisBusiness.com

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