Bill aims to expand farm exports

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Republicans and ag groups have rolled out legislation aimed at expanding the state’s farm exports by at least 25 percent in coming years.

State Rep. Tony Kurtz of Wonewoc and Sen. Joan Ballweg of Markesan in a press conference promoted the bill as a means to help raise ag prices and protect farmers by expanding and diversifying market demand.

“Now more than ever it is important that we do everything we can to ensure the vitality of these markets into the future,” Ballweg told reporters.

The bill would require the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in partnership with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to develop a plan to boost dairy, meat and crop values by at least 25 percent in the next five years. It would require DATCP to spend $5 million on the effort and request that the Joint Finance Committee allocate the agency funding for the program.

Additionally, at least 15 percent of the funding would have to go toward grants for Wisconsin exporters.

Groups such as the Dairy Business Association praised the bill as a way to help struggling industries after 2020 saw a decline in most ag prices and a decline in most international exports.

Ballweg said such industry incentives were mostly left out of Dem Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposal and that the bills were meant to promote ag in budget talks.

Kurtz thanked the Evers administration for including in its budget funding for certain meat, fish and cheese exports.

“But we do have to expand,” he said, touting the bill as a way to also include products like cranberries and bovine genetics.

Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback told the guv actually promoted a similar bill in last year’s State of the State address as part of a special session to address rural economic challenges. The bill failed to pass before the session’s end.

“It’s great to hear Republicans now share the governor’s concern for Wisconsin’s agricultural industries, and we look forward to the governor’s Badger Bounceback agenda — including his proposal creating the Wisconsin Initiative for Agricultural Exports — receiving broad, bipartisan support in the Legislature,” she said.