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State Dairy Export, Processor Grant Bills Clear Ag Committee

A pair of agricultural bills that are part of a larger legislative agenda have already cleared its first hurdle. On Tuesday, the Assembly Ag Committee passed Special Session Assembly Bills 6 and 7, which aims to boost dairy product exports and increases the state's dairy processor grant program. The measures were part of seven proposals brought to the panel this week in hopes of stimulating the struggling farm economy in Wisconsin.


As part of the export policy, the state would invest $1 million through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to encourage more sales to other countries. An amendment from Rep. Tony Kurtz of Wonewoc would expand that investment up to $5 million.


The other bill would give the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture an additional $1 million to grow its popular dairy processor grant program. Rep. Loren Oldenburg from Viroqua offered an amended to direct the agency to prioritize grant allocations to smaller processing facilities, making up to 50 million pounds of finished product annually. Both were approved unanimously.


"Lawmakers are working together, across party lines, to provide immediate relief to dairy farmers and processors challenged by trade volatility, a severe labor shortage, poor weather, and a drop in milk consumption," said John Umhoefer, the executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. "We applaud members of the Assembly Committee on Agriculture for their support of targeted investments designed to help us increase specialty cheese sales and sales of all dairy products, stabilizing and strengthening the dairy industry."


Wisconsin Farm Bureau President Joe Bragger noted that both bills originated from Gov. Tony Evers' recent State of the State Address--calling it an encouraging sign that the governor and GOP lawmakers are finally working together for the sake of Wisconsin agriculture.


"We appreciate the attention that our legislators and our governor are directing toward rural Wisconsin," Bragger said. "If we want our state to continue to prosper in agricultural commodities, we need the rubber to hit the road."


Other bills still being considered by lawmakers this week include AB 874, which would require the Board of Regents to direct a study that examines several facets of educational resources and challenges in current agricultural programs; AB 873 creates a refundable tax credit for property taxes paid on farm buildings and improvements; and AB 627 requires the Board of Regents to allocate $1 million in additional funding per year for state specialists providing extension services at the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences in the field of applied agricultural research.