Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Randy Romanski, secretary-designee of Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, announced that $45 million of the $1.9 trillion American Recovery Act funds, signed in March by President Joe Biden, will go to Wisconsin farmers, meat and dairy processors and programs that help support farmers.
“President Biden just signed the Recovery Act,” Evers said. “We have a lot of resources coming from the Recovery Act to Wisconsin. I see that as being helpful.”
Evers and Romanski spoke during a Professional Dairy Producers Dairy Signal webcast on March 30.
Wisconsin is America’s Dairyland, Evers said, “so it’s critical that agriculture in Wisconsin bounce back.” Agriculture in Wisconsin has a $105 billion annual impact on the state’s economy, with $45 billion coming from dairy. “So agriculture is very important to Wisconsin.”
Romanski noted that agriculture employs 1 in 9 workers in Wisconsin.
In 2020, Evers allocated $50 million that was paid directly to Wisconsin farmers. “I haven’t seen this level of investment in agriculture in my 35-plus years in being part of the budget process,” Romanski said.
Federal dollars for farmers this time will be used to support mental health programs for farmers and grants to help farmers work with business consultants. It will also be given to producer-led watershed programs in the state.
“Our real infrastructure in Wisconsin is soil and water,” Romanski said. “Soil and water health are critical to ag and for all of us. These groups are made up of producers working with their neighbors to improve soil and water conservation. We need to help support these programs — they are really important.”
The money will also allow more county land conservationists to be hired to work with farmers.
“Our supply chain was stressed during the pandemic,” Romanski said. “What we have learned is just how important processors are to keeping meat and dairy products moving off the farm and onto consumers’ plates. The governor is making some strategic investments in infrastructure for the meat processing industry to modernize and expand and also to strengthen the Dairy Processor Grant Program that has more interest than dollars available.”
To be able to continue supporting farmers, Romanski said DATCP needs support too. “If we are going to be able to continue to effectively provide support to farmers, then we need some reinforcements as well. The governor has provided investments in DATCP lab positions, the hiring of additional meat inspectors and more hemp positions. We don’t want to slow the industry down.”
Help for rural areas
The governor also said he is investing $200 million in expanding broadband in rural areas of the state. In 2020, he used $40 million from CARES Act funds for broadband expansion in rural areas.
“It won’t take care of everyone, but it will go a long way,” Evers said. “If we want our economy to thrive, then we need broadband in rural Wisconsin. It’s a bipartisan issue. Kids are back in school, but they still do their homework via the internet — so broadband is important in rural areas.”
Evers said he is considering spending more Recovery Act money on workforce housing in rural Wisconsin.
“Child care is another area we are looking at so people in rural Wisconsin can get jobs and have good child care,” he said.
For more information or to listen to Evers’ and Romanski’s Dairy Signal presentation, go to pdpw.org and click on “Access now.”