TUE AM News: Ag coalition calls for more program funding in biennial budget; Electric co-ops getting $19.4M in loans

— A coalition of Wisconsin agriculture groups is calling on policymakers to boost funding for cover crop insurance premium rebates, dairy processor grants, export grants and other programs in the next state budget. 

The ag groups yesterday rolled out their shared policy priorities for the coming biennial state budget, which cover topics such as transportation, commodity exports, foodbanks, the environment, biofuels and more. 

Jason Mugnaini, director of governmental relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, says agriculture contributes $104.8 billion to state industrial revenues per year while supporting 435,000 jobs. 

“It is important that a state budget proposal reflects this impact,” he said in a release. 

The Wisconsin Ag Coalition is urging Gov. Tony Evers and the Legislature to: 

*increase funding for DATCP’s Cover Crop Insurance Premium Rebate Program from $800,000 in the previous budget to $2 million over the 2023-25 biennium. Under this program, the state agency partners with the USDA’s Risk Management Agency to provide insurance rebates of $5 per acre for cover crops, which help reduce farmland runoff. 

*boost funding for the agency’s Nitrogen Optimization Grant Program from $1.6 million to $2 million in the coming biennium. The program offers $50,000 grants to farmers for two-year nitrogen conservation research projects conducted alongside UW System scientists. 

*provide additional support for the state’s Dairy Processor Grants program, which was funded with $400,000 in the previous budget. Citing the 43 applicants in 2022 requesting $1.7 million in total funding, the coalition is seeking $2 million for the program in the next budget. 

*expand the Wisconsin Initiative for Agricultural Exports from $2 million in funding to $4 million. This program’s goal is to increase exports of dairy, meat, crops and other commodities 25 percent by June 2026. 

*provide $10 million in state funding to help the Food+Farm Exploration Center in Plover open this year, after the Farming for the Future Foundation raised $26 million in private sector dollars for the $36 million project. 

Along with increased funding for these programs and projects, the coalition is seeking continued funding for the Producer-Led Watershed Grant Program, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.’s Wisconsin Cooperative Feasibility Grant Program, the Department of Natural Resources’ Agricultural Nonpoint Source Pollution Program and more. 

The coalition includes the WFBF, the Dairy Business Association, the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, the Wisconsin Agri-Business Association, the Wisconsin Soybean Association, the Midwest Food Products Association and other groups. 

See the release: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2023/wisconsin-farm-bureau-federation-wisconsin-agricultural-groups-share-biennial-budget-priorities/ 

See the full list of budget priorities: https://wfbf.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/2023-25-Budget-Issues-Ag-Coalition-FINAL-Jan-27-2023-003.pdf 

— Two electric cooperatives are getting a total of $19.4 million in loans from the USDA to expand rural networks. 

In a release yesterday, Rural Development State Director for Wisconsin Julie Lassa said the new funding “will strengthen opportunities in our rural communities while making the electric infrastructure more reliable and affordable for the residents and businesses who depend on it.” 

Oconto Electric Cooperative, based in Oconto Falls, is getting a $12.9 million loan to build and improve 157 miles of line and connect 614 customers, according to the agency’s release. 

And the Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative, based in Cornell, is getting $6.5 million to build and improve 75 miles of line and connect 573 customers. 

This funding comes from the USDA’s Electric Loan Program, and is part of a $613 million loan package funding 64 projects around the country. 

See the release: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2023/u-s-dept-of-agriculture-invests-19-4-million-to-improve-and-expand-rural-electric-infrastructure-in-wisconsin/ 

— State utility regulators are now taking applications for federal grant funding to support broadband and digital equity planning efforts. 

The state Public Service Commission yesterday announced the application window has opened for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Workforce Planning Grant and the Digital Equity Outreach Grant. 

State officials had previously announced Wisconsin is getting about $6 million for planning through the “Internet for All” initiative under the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The state is expected to get between $700 million and $1.1 billion from the BEAD program to put the plans into action, the PSC release shows. 

“There is no single solution that will bridge Wisconsin’s digital divide. Rather, it will rely on partnerships and strategic, inclusive planning — and that’s exactly what these grant opportunities will drive,” PSC Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq said in a statement. 

The PSC says $100,000 is available for the BEAD Workforce Planning Grant Program, while $335,000 is available for Digital Equity Outreach Grant funding. Applications for both are due March 1 at 1:30pm, the release shows. 

See more details in the release: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2023/public-service-commission-of-wisconsin-now-accepting-applications-for-internet-for-all-planning-grants/ 

See a recent story on broadband expansion in Wisconsin: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2023/senator-says-broadband-funding-offers-chance-for-bipartisanship/ 

— WEDC is launching a new free data intelligence tool called SizeUpWI to support small to medium businesses in the state. 

“Small businesses are the heart of Wisconsin’s economy,” Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. CEO Missy Hughes said in a statement. “SizeUpWI provides access to the same data large corporations use to help smaller businesses maintain their competitive edge.”

According to a release, the platform can provide insights on local competitors, consumers, advertising hotspots and key suppliers.

See more on the new resource at Madison Startups: https://www.madisonstartups.com/wedc-launches-sizeupwi/ 

<br><b><i>Top headlines from the Health Care Report … </b></i> 

— The Governor’s Health Equity Council has released a set of recommendations aimed at addressing health disparities in Wisconsin. 

And the liberal-leaning group Citizen Action of Wisconsin in an online survey of Wisconsin adults found 59 percent of respondents said they experienced at least one health care affordability burden in the past year. 

<i>For more of the most relevant news on COVID-19, reports on groundbreaking health research in Wisconsin, links to top stories and more, sign up today for the free daily Health Care Report from WisPolitics.com and WisBusiness.com.</i> 

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