April 22, 2021: Celebrating Earth Day with Wisconsin agriculture
By Randy Romanski, DATCP Secretary-designee
Spring weather is upon us, field preparation is underway on many Wisconsin farms, and on April 22, we celebrate Earth Day in Wisconsin. Many Wisconsin farmers are already taking a lead role in developing and implementing conservation practices on their land. They know that the success of our state and the health of our communities would be impossible without healthy soil and water. We all rely on these resources, and preserving them is all of our responsibility.
Partnerships are an important part of encouraging innovative soil and water health solutions. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) regularly works with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), county land conservation departments, and Extension to provide technical support and administer financial resources to farmers across the state who are interested in pursuing conservation practices in their area. Additionally, last year I joined four representatives of Wisconsin farm groups in serving on the Governor's Task Force on Climate Change.
In December 2020, the Task Force issued a report with recommendations on ways our state can mitigate the impacts of climate change. With the input and participation of agricultural stakeholders, the task force proposed initiatives to build connections between food producers and consumers. These included a food waste production pilot program and increased funding for grants through Buy Local Buy Wisconsin, Farm to School, and a new Farm to Fork program at DATCP. The report also recommended supporting farmer-led watershed groups, paying farmers to increase soil carbon storage, avoiding conversion of natural working lands, and making managed grazing systems a priority.
These recommendations have also helped inform the 2021-2023 biennial state budget. In order to maintain existing producer-driven conservation efforts and encourage new ones in the future, both financial and technical support are necessary. In his proposed budget, Governor Tony Evers has proposed significant investments in programs that improve Wisconsin's soil and water quality by advancing producer-led conservation solutions and incentivizing farmer participation in these efforts. Some of these proposed investments into Wisconsin's land and water health and sustainability include:
- Increased funding for the Producer-Led Watershed Grant Program, raising the overall available funding from $750,000 each year to $1,000,000.
- A new Conservation Grant Program to support farmers seeking to transition to grazing and other regenerative agriculture practices.
- Additional county conservation staff to provide on-the-ground technical assistance support to producers.
- Funding for a pilot program to award grants to farmers so they can implement practices that optimize their use of nitrogen.
- Funding to study the feasibility of a carbon market in Wisconsin, and to provide grants to producer-led groups who participate in that market.
- Funding to assist farmers who are looking to obtain third-party certification through the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), which verifies that a site has met AWS water conservation standards.
These proposals build on our state's existing strengths and successes. We often hear about the areas where there is disagreement, but this is one topic where there are many opportunities for bipartisan agreement. Maintaining soil and water health is a year-round effort that is essential to the success of our state's economy and our local communities. The time is right to work together to invest in the land and water resources that provide the foundation for our $104.8 billion agricultural industry. To learn more about Governor Evers' proposed budget, visit https://evers.wi.gov/Pages/BudgetListeningSessions.aspx. To share your thoughts on the Governor's proposal, find contact information for your state legislators at https://legis.wisconsin.gov.
March 23, 2021: Join DATCP in celebrating National Ag Day
By Randy Romanski, DATCP Secretary-designee
Each year, National Ag Day presents an opportunity for all of us to recognize the impacts and contributions of agriculture throughout Wisconsin. We are fortunate to have an agricultural industry that produces an abundance of diverse products that are recognized around the world for their high quality. Our state is responsible for exporting more than $3.3 billion of agriculture products to over 151 countries. Wisconsin ranks first in the U.S. for a variety of commodities and is internationally known as a leader in the dairy industry. With a $104.8 billion contribution to our state's economy each year and about 435,700 jobs, agriculture is extremely important to our state's overall success.
It's also an integral part of our heritage. About one in nine people working in our state hold a job related to agriculture across a variety of careers. From marketing to animal health to IT development and much more, Wisconsin agriculture offers a broad range of opportunities for workers across the state. National Ag Day is an opportunity not only to acknowledge the outstanding contributions of agriculture to Wisconsin's economy and traditions, but to also determine opportunities where we can ensure a strong future for this critical industry.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the importance of investing in resources to support the hardworking men and women in our agriculture industry who help provide food, fuel, and fiber to consumers everywhere. Now more than ever, it is critical that we support Wisconsin farmers, processors, and agri-businesses.
That starts with financial investment. In 2020, Governor Tony Evers allocated nearly $80 million of Wisconsin's federal CARES Act funding to help the state's agriculture industry respond to the challenges presented by the pandemic. As part of that effort, more than 15,200 farmers received direct aid payments last year. Now, as we enter another state budget season, we have an additional opportunity to provide support for Wisconsin agriculture for the long term. That's why Governor Evers has proposed a historic $43 million investment in our state's signature industry over the 2021-2023 biennium. The Governor's budget includes recommendations that build on prior successes in five general areas:
- Encouraging market development for Wisconsin agricultural products
- Investing in Wisconsin's dairy and meat processing industry
- Providing technical support for producer-driven soil and water solutions
- Providing resources to support producer resiliency
- Bolstering DATCP's internal functions
In addition to financial investment, it is critical that we continue building connections within agriculture and across other areas like transportation, education, and broadband. Throughout the pandemic, DATCP has served as a facilitator and resource to Wisconsin agriculture. We have organized regular pathways to help industry partners share ideas, identify opportunities, and develop solutions to shared challenges.
Looking ahead, this kind of continued connection will be important. In Wisconsin agriculture, we are stronger when we work together. We are all looking forward to the warmer weather and sunnier days of spring and summer, when county fairs, dairy breakfasts, and other signature Wisconsin events like State Fair and World Dairy Expo bring us together to celebrate what makes our state's agricultural industry so strong and vibrant.
This year, on March 23, join us and participate in National Ag Day by supporting Wisconsin agriculture and the dedicated people who keep our state's food supply chain moving. You can get involved by educating yourself on where your food comes from and seeking out opportunities to buy from local producers, processors, and vendors. Our economy, environment, and communities thrive when everyone contributes to our state. Supporting your local agricultural and food businesses is one way to do that.
For more information and resources on Wisconsin's vibrant agriculture industry, visit DATCP's website at datcp.wi.gov. For more on National Ag Day, visit AgDay.org.
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
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.