DATCP Blog - 2020 Archive

​October 2, 2020: As pandemic continues, so should our support for agriculture and food industries

By Randy Romanski, DATCP Secretary-designeeRomanski Head Shot.jpg

Recently, the independent polling and research firm Gallup published its annual study measuring the opinions Americans hold about various U.S. business and industry sectors. This year, for the first time in the 20 years that Gallup has done the study, farming and agriculture topped the list with a 69% positive rating.

While this poll is designed to measure national sentiment, we in Wisconsin have always felt the importance and value of our state's farmers. Agriculture contributes $104.8 billion annually to Wisconsin's economy. About one in nine people working in our state hold a job related to agriculture. Even in dairy alone, Wisconsin dominates: nearly one quarter of the nation's dairy farms are in Wisconsin. Additionally, our state's vibrant agricultural industry is not only large; it's diverse. We are fortunate to live in a state that produces a wide variety of products for consumers around the world, from cranberries to ginseng to cheese to meat and much more.

Wisconsin's diverse, abundant agriculture industry helps support the rural communities where many farmers are located. It also supports our state's robust food processing industry and the complex supply chain that delivers high-quality food products to people all over the world. Where there are farms, there are many ancillary businesses that help those farms run, such as implement dealerships, feed suppliers, veterinarians, milk haulers, insurance agencies, and more. And where there are farmers, there is ideally a community infrastructure of grocery stores, schools, health care providers, libraries, and other entities that those farmers and their families need.

All of these interconnected businesses and structures make it possible for Wisconsin to not only produce a variety of high-quality food, but to process and distribute it to consumers across the globe. During the initial onset of COVID-19 in Wisconsin, we saw just how critical that food supply chain is. Some of our state's dairy farmers were asked to take the difficult step of decreasing production or disposing of their milk, in an effort to manage the sudden and significant shift in consumer demands.

Elsewhere in the chain, food processors had to rapidly adjust their packaging and processes. Retailers worked hard to help consumers understand why they might see an empty dairy case at the store, followed by a local news story about a farmer disposing of their milk.

Through it all, essential workers in the food supply chain have never stopped working to provide food for all of us. That includes grocery store employees, workers in our cheese plants, farmers and their families, and many others. Thanks to their continued dedication, many of us have enjoyed access to nutritious food products even as we navigate the logistical challenges of the global pandemic.

So next time you head to the grocery store, please consider the farmers who produced the food, the processors who made it into what it is today, and the retailers and distributors who worked hard to make sure it was available for you to purchase. Take a moment to join the growing number of Americans in recognizing the important role and positive impact farming and agriculture has on all of our lives.

September 2, 2020: Meeting the challenge of broadband access

ValcqHeadshot.jpgGuest post by Rebecca Cameron Valcq, Chairperson, Public Service Commission of Wisconsin​ (PSC)

Prior to, and even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic, we in Wisconsin understand the dire consequences that result from a lack of high-speed or broadband internet connectivity.  Small business owners need to have a robust online presence, farmers need connectivity to utilize precision agricultural practices and to compete in a global economy, and students of all ages need the ability to access lessons, virtual learning and homework assignments. In short, access to broadband has become an essential service that far too many lack. ​

According to the FCC's 2020 Broadband Deployment Report, 7.1% of Wisconsin residents lack access to at least one broadband service with a speed of 25/3 Mbps or better, compared to the national average of 5.6%.  These numbers are even worse in rural areas of our state where 26.7% of people lack access to at least one broadband service.

Expanding access to broadband internet is challenging in Wisconsin where many areas of our state do not have the population density to support a return on investment for internet service providers (ISPs).  At the Public Service Commission (PSC), we have the State Broadband Office which administers Wisconsin's Broadband Expansion Grant Program.  The program provides public funding to ISPs to expand to underserved and unserved areas.  The program started in FY2014 and saw minimal investment over the first 5 years.  By the time Governor Evers took the oath of office, only $20.1 million had been awarded. 

In the Governor's first budget, signed last year, $48 million was included for expansion grants.  While the Governor's original budget proposal included over $78 million for broadband, $48 million remains an historic investment, which clearly demonstrates Governor Evers' commitment to connect all of our residents.  In September 2019, the Governor and I announced the opening of the first round of grant funding to the tune of $24 million.  That one round was a larger investment than the previous seven rounds combined. 

We received 143 applications requesting $50.3 million for large and small projects.  In March of this year, we awarded 72 grants to extend high-speed internet access to as many as 3,182 businesses and 46,537 homes, including 39,778 locations that were currently unserved.

Recently, the Governor and I announced that we are now accepting applications for the remaining $24 million in expansion funding through December 1 of this year.

We at the PSC have been working to connect Wisconsin residents to the broadband internet connectivity that is so critically important to function in daily life.  But as grant funding is harder to come by, Wisconsin needs creative ideas on how to connect every resident in our state.

To that end, in July through Executive Order #80, Governor Evers created the Governor's Task Force on Broadband Access.  The task force is bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders to research and develop recommendations for actions our state can take to ensure that all Wisconsinites can have access to this essential and critical service.

With further investment, innovation, and collaboration, we can meet the challenge of connecting all of us in Wisconsin.

June 1, 2020: Even during COVID-19, pride for June Dairy Month lives on

Gov. Evers.jfif

This commentary by Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers originally appeared statewide on May 28, 2020.

It's June in Wisconsin, and that means June Dairy Month. From my days working in a cheese plant, I've never missed the chance to support our state's dairy industry, which now contributes $45.6 billion to Wisconsin's economy. I know things have been hard for dairy farmers these past several years, and this June won't be any easier. Even though you might not be headed out to a crowded dairy breakfast this year, we can (and should) still celebrate this powerhouse industry.

June Dairy Month is a long-standing, proud tradition in our state. There's no better way to start the summer than by eating plenty of curds and ice cream to support our dairy industry. But dairying is more than just producing high-quality food: it's an integral part of our state's heritage. It's why we call ourselves “America's Dairyland," and why I've worked hard to try and help position our dairy industry for success. ​

Our state has relied on the resilience and dedication of our farmers for generations, and in this state, nobody carries the burden alone. We need to be better partners for our farmers, agricultural industries, and rural communities. In January of this year, I unveiled a three-pronged plan to start addressing these challenges, starting with a special session of the Legislature to get to work on this issue right away. Now, the legislature hasn't sent any bills to my desk yet, but I remain hopeful the proposals I introduced will pass with bipartisan support before the year is out.

In the meantime, my administration isn't waiting to help our farmers. I am directing $50 million of the funding Wisconsin received through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act toward direct payments to support Wisconsin farmers, including dairy producers.

Wisconsin's dairy community is more than just farms, too. Those farms are connected to a vast network of equipment manufacturers and technicians, cooperatives, veterinarians, construction companies, milk haulers, processing plants, software companies, and many more. When Wisconsin dairy thrives, all of these interconnected industries thrive too.

There's no denying that this year, June Dairy Month looks different. Even before COVID-19, Wisconsin's dairy industry endured several tough years. Dairy farmers in particular were hit hard by low milk prices and President Trump's trade wars. Now, the global pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for our farmers, food processors, and all those in the food supply chain. Some farmers were pushed to take the heart-wrenching step of disposing of their milk – the commodity they work so hard to produce every day.

But, in these difficult, constantly-changing circumstances, we have seen just how resilient our dairy community is. Almost as quickly as challenges arose, the dairy industry found ways to address them. Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) banded together with Hunger Task Force to deliver thousands of gallons of fresh milk to people in need. Wisconsin cheese makers made generous donations to help feed their local communities and save milk from going down the drain. There are countless stories like these, and every day we see more.

I'm proud of our state's dairy industry. It's part of our past and present, and it will be part of our future, even as we continue to respond to the market changes brought on by COVID-19. This year's June Dairy month recognition is especially hard-won, but I hope you'll join me in celebrating nonetheless. We're America's Dairyland, and that's one thing COVID-19 won't change.

May 5, 2020: Be there for farmers; they are always there for you

This commentary by Randy Romanski, DATCP Interim Secretary, originally appeared statewide on April 6, 2020.​

The COVID-19 public health emergency has forced all of us to think about what is essential in our lives. While some decisions are difficult, others are clear. Food and agriculture are essential. Food and those who produce it are fundamental to our personal well-being and our state's strength.

We are privileged to live in a state that produces an abundance of nutritious, high-quality foods. From fruits and vegetables to milk and meat, Wisconsin agriculture is diverse and plentiful. You do not have to drive far in Wisconsin to see the farms and fields that feed us. Unfortunately, this pandemic has impacted the entire world and has the potential to cause disruptions to the food supply chain here in the Midwest.  

We have seen devastating photos and videos of milk being disposed of in manure lagoons and heard stories of processing plants in some parts of the country reducing their hours or temporarily closing due to COVID-19. These situations are worst-case scenarios that no one can prepare for. No one works seven days a week, 365 days a year to see milk not leave the farm. No one wants to shut down processing lines and lay off employees at a time when families need their paycheck more than ever.

Even during this public health emergency, farmers and processors are working tirelessly to produce food for all of us. Grocery store managers and employees are also working around the clock to be sure families have a variety of fresh, frozen, and packaged foods available.

With schools closed and restaurant service limited, an entire component of food processing and distribution has been unexpectedly disrupted. These processors and distributors are now rapidly working to adapt to the current conditions, but there is only so much they can do so fast. They must work within the confines of the equipment, packaging, and transportation methods available to them. A carton of milk is much different than a gallon, and a can of green beans packaged for your family is much different than a bulk purchase for a school.

Across the industry, agricultural advocates have encouraged consumers everywhere to support farmers. I want to add my voice to that message. From weeks of conversations with our dairy and livestock farmers, crop producers, agribusinesses, and food suppliers, here are four takeaways:

  1. Shop responsibly. Food is and will be available. While your favorite brand or flavor may not be available at a certain time, remember how lucky we are to live in a state and country with access to a variety of foods.
  2. Buy Wisconsin products. Choose dairy products including milk and cheese. Pour an extra glass of milk at dinner, or add extra cheese to your pizza delivery. Buy beef for your grill or bacon for breakfast. Keep the supply chain moving by creating demand.
  3. Donate to those in need. This is a very difficult time for thousands of people who are underemployed or unemployed. Many, including our farmers and those in rural communities, are struggling to make ends meet. If you are able, grab an extra gallon of milk for a neighbor or drop off canned vegetables at your local food pantry. DATCP is working to connect the dots between farmers, food processors, and people in need. There is always more we can all do to help.
  4. Share your thanks. Now is the time to express your gratitude to our essential workforce, including those in food and agriculture. Show your appreciation in your local community or on social media for those who fill our plates and stock our shelves every day.

The COVID-19 public health emergency will have a lasting impact on each of us, including Wisconsin's agricultural industry. I hope that by supporting the state's farmers and processors through our purchases now will ensure the industry's vitality in the future. Please be there for our essential workforce at this time, because they are always there for you.

March 2, 2020: Connecting the dots through agriculture

By Randy Romanski, DATCP Interim Secretary​

Romanski Head Shot.jpgEach day, hardworking farmers operate 68,700 farms in Wisconsin, totaling 14.4 million acres of land. Later this month, on March 24, we will celebrate National Agriculture Day, to recognize the diverse food, fuel, and fiber our agriculture community provides. At the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), we are proud to join this celebration and continue our work year-round to support and promote Wisconsin agriculture.

Wisconsin is America's Dairyland, but there is more to our agriculture industry than just milk and cheese. Wisconsin ranks first in the nation for snap beans, cheese, cranberries, ginseng, mink pelt, dry whey, milk goats and corn for silage. Wisconsin agriculture is also a significant economic driver, contributing $104.8 billion annually to our state's economy. That is certainly something to celebrate!

Everything we eat, use and wear on a daily basis can be connected to agriculture. Each American farmer feeds more than 165 people, a dramatic increase from 25 people in the 1960's. In addition to raw food products, Wisconsin agriculture provides jobs in a wide range of specialties, new technologies, innovative conservation practices, and even export opportunities amounting to more than $3.3 billion in 2019.

On National Ag Day and throughout the year, DATCP works to encourage everyone, especially young people, to learn more about how they can support Wisconsin agriculture, no matter where they live. It is important for all of us to recognize the far-reaching impacts of this industry in communities throughout our state.

Farmers don't just work on their own land; they interact with their rural communities each and every day. They shop in local stores, send their children to local schools, and serve in local government. The food grown on our farms travels on town roads and state highways to processors in urban areas. Farmers depend on reliable broadband internet, public education, and accessible health care to run the successful agribusinesses that contribute to our state's economy.
National Ag Day is the perfect time to recognize the connection agriculture provides between people all across our state, our country, and our world. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the strong economy we are building are just a few of the factors that makes Wisconsin remarkable. Happy National Ag Day!

February 3, 2020: Make a connection with the Division of Trade and Consumer Protection​​

By Lara Sutherlin, Administrator​, Division of Trade and Consumer Protection

February is a month for celebrating our connections to others in our lives. This February, I'd like to share the many ways the Division of Trade and Consumer Protection (TCP) at the Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection (DATCP) connects with consumers and businesses across Wisconsin to help them protect themselves and ensure a fair marketplace.

Before you ever make a purchase in your local grocery store or gas station, the Bureau of Weights and Measures (BWM) staff have inspected scales and pumps to ensure they are calibrated accurately and that you will receive a fair deal. Regular inspections by our field staff ensure that this equipment stays in compliance with state law. You can feel confident in your shopping knowing that BWM staff conduct more than 250,000 inspections of devices and products annually.

The Bureau of Business Trade Practices protects agricultural producers against catastrophic defaults by dealers and contractors, ensuring fair competition and a well-functioning marketplace. This division also provides inspection and weighing services for grain, fruits and vegetables. Ensuring our food supply is fair, safe and secure is a priority for DATCP inspectors across the state.

Each year, more than 100,000 inquiries are received by the Wisconsin Consumer Protection Hotline, located in the Bureau of Consumer Protection (BCP). Consumers connect to the hotline staff to resolve concerns and find resources to assist in a wide variety of daily concerns. In addition to responding to these complaints, BCP staff educate consumers on ways to avoid identity theft, how to recognize scams, and best practices for selecting trustworthy businesses. The bureau also offers recovery services to identity theft victims with the aid of the Identity Theft Assistance Team.

You can find more information about DATCP and the Division of Trade and Consumer Protection on our website: https://datcp.wi.gov/Pages/Programs_Services/ConsumerProtection.aspx. We look forward to connecting with you!

​​January 2, 2020: DATCP: Serving You i​n 2020 and Beyond

By Randy Romanski, DATCP Interim Secretary

Romanski Head Shot.jpgHappy New Year! It is hard to believe that we have entered not only a new year, but a new decade as well. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is planning ahead for the next decade by first looking back at the many ways we have served as a resource in 2019:

Dairy Task Force 2.0
In 2019, this cross-section of 31 stakeholders came together to issue a final report detailing 51 recommendations on actions to maintain a viable and profitable dairy industry in Wisconsin. DATCP has already made progress on several of the recommendations, such as the Dairy Innovation Hub, pursuing updates to administrative rules on rBST affidavits, and creating a public-facing dashboard to track each proposal: https://datcp.wi.gov/Pages/Growing_WI/TaskForceDashboard.aspx

In 2020, the agency will continue to explore ways to further engage with these recommendations. Wisconsin's dairy industry is an integral part of our state's heritage. In collaboration with our federal, state, local, and industry partners, DATCP will continue to support our dairy industry.

Wisconsin Farm Center
From January-June 2019, the Wisconsin Farm Center hotline (1-800-942-2474) saw a 4% increase in incoming calls compared to the previous year. A team of trained DATCP staff take these calls each day, providing no-cost assistance to farmers and their families on a wide range of topics: transition planning, financial consultation, stress management, and more.

In 2020, the Farm Center will partner with UW's Division of Extension to host a series of workshops for farmers and their spouses or partners: https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/farmstress/farmcouples/ These seminars will help farmers communicate more effectively, make plans for the future, and learn about the resources DATCP and UW have to offer. DATCP also plans to host workshops to help counselors better understand agriculture and the unique stresses that go along with farming.

Consumer protection
Each year, DATCP's Bureau of Consumer Protection fields approximately 100,000 inquiries. In 2019, Wisconsin consumers contacted the agency about robocalls, identity theft, landlord-tenant issues, and more. In addition to processing these incoming contacts, DATCP used this information to improve our outreach efforts and assist in consumer protection investigations.

In 2020, DATCP's Data Privacy and Security Advisory Committee, comprised of stakeholders in the data security field, will develop potential legislative options to continue addressing data security challenges facing both consumers and businesses in Wisconsin.

Water quality efforts
Governor Tony Evers declared 2019 the Year of Clean Drinking Water in Wisconsin. Throughout the year, DATCP staff attended nearly all of the hearings of the legislative Speaker's Task Force on Water Quality and helped ensure that the legislation drafted afterward was on a sound technical foundation. 2019 also saw the highest interest yet in DATCP's Producer-Led Watershed Protection grants, with 30 applications for over $1 million in funding.

In 2020, the agency will continue to serve as a resource for legislators, stakeholders, and members of the public interested in ensuring clean water for all Wisconsin citizens. We will also continue to work with farmers and agricultural organizations to support and improve our ag industry's stewardship of our state's soil and water resources.

In 2019, the second year of Wisconsin's newly revived hemp industry, DATCP issued more than 1,800 licenses to grow and process the crop – a 600% increase from the 2018 growing season. Despite tremendous interest in the program, limited staff capacity, and unpredictable weather, the agency traveled to 70 of 72 counties across the state, collecting 2,200 hemp samples and issuing approximately 1,911 fit for commerce certificates. DATCP also served as a resource during the drafting of 2019 Act 68 or “Hemp 2.0," which improved Wisconsin's hemp laws and positioned our state to align with federal hemp rules moving forward.

In 2020, DATCP looks forward to a year of continued learning and expansion of the hemp industry in our state, especially as we navigate the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) guidelines on this new crop. 

As you can see, DATCP has served as a valuable resource to farmers, businesses, and consumers on a wide variety of topics in 2019. We look forward to continuing to serve Wisconsin in 2020 and for decades to come.

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