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Serving: WI

Ag Not Forgotten in State Budget

Variety of programs to help farmers included. By Harley Buchholz

Wisconsin farmers facing manure handling issues will have more resources to work with under terms of the new state budget adopted by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Doyle in late October.

The budget provides an additional $6 million for cost-sharing grants to landowners for nutrient management planning and manure management grants. The grants will help ease the cost of requiring all Wisconsin farmers to implement a nutrient management plan by 2008 to meet Department of Natural Resources runoff pollution performance standards.

Another $75,000 is earmarked in 2007-08 and $40,000 in '08-09 to establish and operate an online manure management and advisory system to assist farmers and manure applicators in identifying the least risky fields and times to apply manure. Funding through next year is for development costs and the budget beyond that is for ongoing maintenance costs and hard copy materials.

Ott pleased

Rep. Al Ott, R-Forest Junction, chairman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, is particularly pleased with the added funding for nutrient and manure management. "This was a pretty high priority for us," he says. He also praises the $250,000 annual grant to University of Wisconsin-Extension for research and outreach at the "Discovery Farms," a series of operating, commercial farms conducting on-farm research while cooperating with each other, a research farm at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "It's there for the farmers," Ott says of the program.

New efforts on manure management, he says, "all tie in with the Discovery Farms. The Department (of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection) is trying to be pro-active."
He says though that he's disappointed over what he considers under funding of DATCP, particularly in areas of food safety and animal health. There's not enough recognition by the Legislature, he maintains, "that we have an agency responsible for food safety and animal health."

Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, who heads the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Education, praises the tax credits for dairy plant modernization. The credits come on the heels of Gov. Jim Doyle's announcement that Wisconsin dairy plants produced a record amount of cheese in 2006. She sees the credits as help for small cheese plants.

Sen. Vinehout also likes the "Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin" funding, particularly for its potential to develop tourist trails to Wisconsin farms. "It will help the development of infrastructure and markets" for local farm products, she says. Up to $225,000 is available in 2007-08 and funds were placed in the DATCP budget for staffing, training and promoting. Grants under the program are for creation, promotion and support of regional food and cultural tourism trails, and for promoting the development of regional food systems - which could include the creation or expansion of food processing and distribution facilities, creating or supporting networks of producers, and strengthening connections between producers, retailers, institutions and consumers).

Bill Oemichen, president of the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives, says "Gov. Doyle's signature on the budget is a positive step forward for the state's cooperatives and rural Wisconsin." WFC in a news release singles out for praise exclusion of the oil franchise tax, expansion of BadgerCare, added bonding authority for freight rail preservation, increased support for fair premium payments and grants for soybean crushing facilities and for costs of preventing pollution from ag chemicals.

* The ag portion of the budget provides an increase to $400,000 annually for aids to county and district fairs, for which Sen. Vinehout says she is grateful. "I advocated for that," she notes. The provision modifies the current aid formula to provide each eligible fair up to 95% of the first $8,000 in premiums and 70% of all premiums in excess of $8,000, with a maximum grant of $10,000 per fair.

*The budget also makes available $4 million for grants to aid in the construction of soybean crushing facilities and up to $250,000 in assistance annually to businesses for the costs of capital improvements designed to prevent pollution from agricultural chemicals.
Other items in the ag portion of the new state budget provide:

* $400,000 annually for a grant to the Wisconsin Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative for technical education and research. The Wisconsin Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative was formed to improve and expand the use of practical, profitable grazing-based systems.

* An increase to $1 million annually for the clean sweep program, which provides grants to counties to fund the collection and disposal of agricultural and household hazardous materials. The program now will allow for the collection of pharmaceuticals and prescription drugs.

* Increased funding for marketing services, food safety and animal health programs.

* A reduction of 30% in fees and surcharges for the agricultural chemical cleanup program. It affects surcharges on fertilizer licensing, down $6; fertilizer tonnage, down 19 cents per ton; pesticide application businesses, down $17; pesticide dealer restricted use, down $12; pesticide applicators, down $6; and non-household pesticide registration, down from $1.50 to $50 or .35%, depending on sales.

* A grant of $71,000 annually to the International Crane Foundation for costs associated with a sandhill crane crop depredation project.

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