Wisconsin farmers can expect to receive additional money as a result of the latest federal stimulus plan, according to Gov. Tony Evers.
During a call with ag media last week, Evers confirmed that there will “absolutely” be funds directed to farmers from the amount the state is receiving from the $1.9 trillion federal American Rescue Plan. Wisconsin is receiving $2.5 billion from that spending package.
Evers did not provide a specific timeline for any new payments to farmers but said that the priority has been to get funds out to small businesses first. Applications to receive some of the $420 million in funding for the Wisconsin Tomorrow Small Business Grant program closed June 7.
Evers indicated that a new round of funding for agricultural producers would likely bear some similarity to the Wisconsin Farm Support Program from last year, which directed $50 million to state farmers over two rounds. But Evers said that he didn’t think that everything was covered by the previous program and that additional input is still being gathered.
In other funding for agriculture, Evers said that he was glad to see the state Legislature’s budget committee providing funding for some of the priorities Evers listed in his budget proposal, which had included over $43 million for agriculture over the next two years. However, he also said that the committee could have and should have gone further.
The Republican-led Joint Finance Committee took up the budget for the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection on June 2. The budget committee has largely been building their own budget off of the current biennial budget after immediately eliminating many of the proposals in Evers’ budget last month.
But some aspects similar to Evers’ proposed budget can still be seen in what the committee did approve for DATCP two weeks ago.
A new Meat Processor Grant program, extra money for the Dairy Processor Grant program, four new state meat inspector positions, an ag export program, and additional funds for the Farmer Mental Health Program were among the provisions that made it through the budget committee.
The budget process will continue to play out. The budget committee has kept shaping the rest of their spending plan. The full Legislature will then have to vote on the budget before it goes to Evers, whose veto authority could force the budget to undergo additional reworking.
DATCP Secretary-designee Randy Romanski provided additional updates on the recent work of the department.
Romanski, who has been serving as department head since November 2019 without official confirmation by the Senate, recently had his appointment approved by the state Senate Committee on Agriculture and Tourism. It is now up to the full Senate to make the determination as to when and if Romanski is confirmed to the post he took over after previous nominee, now State Sen. Brad Pfaff was rejected by the Senate.
Romanski said that after a public hearing, held June 4, DATCP will be looking at the feedback it has received on the state’s hemp emergency rule that dictates how the department regulates the hemp industry.
For 2021, Wisconsin’s hemp program continues to operate under the 2014 Farm Bill. But the state’s emergency rule, effective as of May 3, now also incorporates some provisions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final rule for the establishment of a domestic hemp production program. That final rule was published in March.
Because of the USDA rule, hemp producers in the state now have options for retesting and remediating their crop. Rules regarding negligent violations were also updated.
Interest in growing hemp appears to have dropped this year. Romanski said that’s likely due to a number of reasons, but some factors may include the uncertainty that comes with hemp being a new crop, market development for hemp products and higher corn and soybean prices that may have swayed farmers away from planting hemp.
Romanski also discussed the recent awards of Dairy Processor grants and Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin grants. DATCP is also waiving the surcharge for its Agricultural Chemical Cleanup Program Fund for the fourth year.