Wisconsin dairy farmers, milk processors and business partners comprise the DBA, with the aim of boosting the state’s dairy community. They gathered with state lawmakers on April 10 for a Dairy Day at the Capitol.
The DBA outlined plans to discuss: water quality challenges, opportunities for nutrient trading, a driver permit for non-citizens, funding dairy research and addressing long-term transportation funding. It also announced its budget priorities.
Chad Zuleger, associate director of government affairs for DBA, said ahead of the meetings, “This is our opportunity to share real-life experiences from the farm and other dairy businesses that will inform lawmakers as they make decisions on legislation. It’s critical that policymakers understand the challenges facing the dairy community and the solutions that will lead to stability and long-term success.”
Gov. Tony Evers and Brad Pfaff, the state agriculture secretary designee, spoke to about 50 attendees, who then split up and “visited 46 offices for individual discussions with 69 of the state’s 132 lawmakers or their staffs to explain the real-world needs of today’s dairy farmers and related businesses,” according to the DBA.
John Holevoet, director of government affairs for DBA, said, “These types of lobbying efforts — with members taking center stage — go the furthest in opening the eyes and ears of lawmakers as they make decisions that affect day-to-day life in the dairy community. This is a critical time to get in front of state leaders as they work through the budget-making process.”
Water quality and nutrient trading
Wisconsin has water quality challenges, and agriculture contributes to them. To address this, the DBA said it has been working with farmer-led conservation initiatives in Wisconsin for the last few years. It also wants to target additional funds to help implement performance standards, like ones already enacted in the eastern part of the state.
The DBA is hoping to “fund programs for rural wells that will provide immediate relief for people with unclean water while providing the agricultural community with time to address long-term solutions.” It also advises “a common-sense approach to improve the rules governing well construction and septic systems.”
In its proposal, the DBA notes that nutrient trading could be used to reduce the amount of phosphorus and other nutrients that reach surface and groundwater, similar to the effects of carbon trading. But regulatory changes are needed to make this trading easier and more popular.
Senate Bill 91 has been proposed with bipartisan support, the DBA recommends that be passed as soon as possible to make nutrient trading possible.
A drivers card, dairy research and transport funding
The DBA is calling for the creation of a unique driver’s card for non-citizen motorists, calling it a public safety issue for those farmers who follow all applicable laws regarding hiring, but still lack documentation for employees to drive legally.
“It is also an economic development issue. Wisconsin already faces a serious labor shortage, and this problem is the worst in rural parts of the state. We need all the workers we can get to keep our economy growing,” DBA said.
The organization also advocated for The University of Wisconsin System as a global leader in dairy research, and how the Dairy Innovation Hub is the best way to leverage the System in the face of dairy’s rough economic times.
According to the DBA, the Hub is “a multi-campus, multi-disciplinary initiative to hire top-level young researchers in the areas of land/water stewardship, human health/nutrition, animal welfare and rural business/community development.”
It proposed Wisconsin’s annual investment in the Hub be $7.9m, which is less than 0.02% of the nearly $44bn the dairy community generates each year for the state’s economy.
Finally, the DBA is looking for ‘sound and sustainable’ ways to pay for state transportation projects. It said that many rural roads near dairy farms are deteriorating and cannot handle modern farm equipment’s size, and farmers and processors depend on these roads every day.
It said that Wisconsin needs to increase revenue for overall transportation funds, and also expressed concerned about continuing high levels of borrowing. It worries that these problems can unfairly pit farmers against local governments if not addressed.