​​February 1, 2021​: DATCP, Wisconsin agriculture, and COVID-19

​​​By Randy Romanski, DATCP Secretary-designee

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the critical intersection between agricultural production, the food supply chain, and consumers has become extremely clear. Throughout the pandemic, DATCP has worked hard to serve as a resource to Wisconsin's agricultural and food industries, as well as consumers. To learn more, you can read DATCP's COVID-19 report here​.​

At the beginning of the pandemic, Governor Tony Evers recognized the essential nature of food and agriculture in our state. As they have throughout the past several years of difficult weather, low farm-gate prices, and trade disruptions, Wisconsin workers at all points along the food supply chain have never stopped working to keep us all fed.

During the initial onset of COVID-19 in Wisconsin, frequent communication was key. DATCP leaders quickly coordinated regular conference calls between multiple stakeholders to share information, learn about problems as they arose, and try to facilitate solutions. These calls helped foster connections across the industry and enabled our agency to serve our customers and the public more effectively.

DATCP has also worked closely with Governor Tony Evers and other state agencies to respond to the needs and requests of Wisconsin agriculture. These efforts took many forms and supported a wide variety of different sectors:

  • Wisconsin Farm Support Program: $50 million in direct payments to over 15,000 Wisconsin farmers to help offset the economic losses they've experienced as a result of COVID-19.
  • Food Security Initiative: $25 million to help food banks and other nonprofits adapt to the infrastructure challenges they faced as a result of COVID-19, and purchase Wisconsin foods for distribution to those in need across the state and in the Tribal Nations.
  • Partially lifted the state milk assessment for disposed milk from May 14, 2020 until the end of the federal major disaster declaration.
  • Conducted hundreds of Focused Food Safety Checks over the phone or videoconferencing to make sure that our inspected food businesses had the support they needed to continue operating safely.
  • Partnered with the UW-Madison Division of Extension to develop an online exam for commercial pesticide applicators
  • Maintained close coordination with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to respond effectively to an outbreak of COVID-19 in Wisconsin mink and help the industry understand and implement best practices for the future.
  • Invested $3.25 million to support Wisconsin's ethanol plants, which produce CO2, a critical part of food and beverage packaging and dry ice production.
  • Created a searchable meat processor database to help Wisconsin grocers find a small, local meat processor near them. Governor Evers has also indicated that the 2021-2023 biennial budget will include investments in Wisconsin's meat processing industry.
  • Helped distribute 60,000 cloth face masks to our stakeholders for distribution to their essential workers, including those in dairy plants, small meat processors, and grocery stores.
  • Administered Wisconsin's price gouging statute by investigating and processing hundreds of price gouging complaints.
  • Helped Wisconsin tenants better understand how regulatory changes impacted (or didn't impact) evictions, rent payment, and housing assistance.

As the state continues to address this challenging pandemic, DATCP will continue to coordinate with stakeholders, media partners, and the public to support Wisconsin agriculture. DATCP is prepared to support our state's producers, consumers, and the entire food supply chain into 2021 and beyond.

January 4, 2021: New Year, New Innovations in Wisconsin Agriculture

By Randy Romanski, DATCP Secretary-designee

Happy New Year! As I reflect on the past year, I believe I join many people in expressing optimism for 2021. While difficult challenges are still ahead as we continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wisconsin agriculture is well-positioned to meet its trials and most importantly, take advantage of opportunities presented through innovation.

The end of 2020 brought a vital innovation for our country: the development and approval of COVID-19 vaccines. While it will take time to distribute, this vaccine is fundamental to protecting our agricultural workforce and entire food supply chain from the devastating impacts of COVID-19. Continued innovations, including how workplaces have put in strategic investments to protect their agricultural and food employees from this pandemic, will be key moving forward.

I am encouraged by the continued investments in Wisconsin agriculture that will fuel innovation in 2021 and beyond. The Dairy Business Innovation Alliance (DBIA), a partnership between the Center for Dairy Research (CDR) and the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA), assists dairy farmers and dairy processors create new revenue streams through farm diversification, business strategy development, and the creation of value-added products. Funded through the 2018 Farm Bill, the DBIA offers technical assistance and grants to dairy-related businesses to develop innovations.

The state has also made significant investments in dairy research through the Dairy Innovation Hub. The Dairy Innovation Hub, which was strongly recommended by the Wisconsin Dairy Task Force 2.0 and included in Governor Tony Evers’ 2019-2021 biennial budget, invests millions of dollars in research and development at UW-Madison, UW-Platteville, and UW-River Falls in four priority areas: stewarding land and water resources, enriching human health and nutrition, ensuring animal health and welfare, and growing farm businesses and communities. 

Continued innovation and product development will be significant to meeting the needs and expectations of our customers, regionally and around the world. During COVID-19, we saw shifts in the food supply chain that will likely be sustained into 2021, such as eating at home and seeking locally produced foods.  Collaboration across the industry and with the University of Wisconsin System will be fundamental to developing new products and uses for agricultural products. 

Partnerships are critical to fuel innovation. We have seen this work first hand through farmer-led research through DATCP’s Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grants. These grants fund projects that focus on ways to prevent and reduce runoff from farm fields and that work to increase farmer participation in these voluntary conservation efforts. The grants bring together farmers, conservation agencies, institutions, and nonprofit organizations to research innovative ideas.

I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and safe new year. I hope you can find optimism in your look at 2021 and join me in appreciating the tremendous innovations that have brought Wisconsin agriculture to this point and will certainly pave the way for the future. I look forward to continued cooperation and innovation across Wisconsin agriculture in 2021.