National Agriculture Day occurs every year on the first day of spring, this year on Thursday, March 20. It is an opportunity to honor Wisconsin’s farmers and agricultural businesses for providing safe, abundant and affordable products, a strong economy, a source of renewable energy, and job opportunities.
Agriculture generates $51 billion and close to half a million jobs for the state annually.
From record production of milk, corn and ethanol to record investments by Wisconsin dairy farms and cheese plants, Wisconsin agriculture is the bright spot on the 2008 economic outlook.
Farmers in the state have been receiving record prices for their products, in large part due to demand abroad. Agriculture exports jumped 45%, doubling in three years to exceed $2 billion – a record.
Dairy exports skyrocketed 131%. Cheese exports hit 21.3 million pounds and set a record value of $75 million.
Today more than 80 of the state’s 115 cheese plants make at least one type of specialty cheese, accounting for almost half of the U.S. specialty cheese market in the U.S. – an all time high.
These significant benchmarks did not occur in a vacuum. They are the fruits of a focused, strategic, bi-partisan, effort to re-invigorate dairy and agriculture. Our value-added dairy initiative’s Grow Wisconsin Dairy Team and Dairy Business Innovation Center; the dairy investment tax credit; expansion of the use-value tax; and the livestock siting law all helped create the momentum we are feeling today.
But we still have much to do.
To keep the momentum going, Gov. Doyle’s Next Generation Agriculture Plan stresses the importance of stimulating our state’s rural economy and harnessing our vast resources to achieve energy independence while protecting the environment.
These initiatives range from nutrient management and grazing lands conservation to tax credits for cheese and meat plants.
In response to broad support from farm leaders, food businesses and non-profit groups, Wisconsin is poised to be a leader in the local food movement. We are accepting grant proposals for innovative ideas to connect consumers with local food as part of the “Buy Local Buy Wisconsin” initiative.
The biennial budget approved by Governor Doyle and passed with bi-partisan support in the Legislature provided $4 million for the construction of a large-scale soybean crushing facility. We are currently reviewing grant proposals and will soon be announcing the award.
A soybean crush facility will expand the market for Wisconsin soybeans, supply local bio industries with essential ingredients and help reduce dependence on foreign oil.
We have set Wisconsin on the right course to seize new economic opportunities and lead our nation’s response to one of the most critical challenges of our time. We need to depend more on the Midwest and less on the Mideast.
The inevitable green revolution is providing opportunities for rural development unlike anything we will see in our lifetime.
Agriculture is our heritage. It is our future as well.