Farmers could be eligible for one-time direct payments of between $1,000 and $3,500 as part of the Wisconsin Farm Support Program Gov. Tony Evers introduced in May, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary-designee Randy Romanski announced June 4.

“In Wisconsin, there are tens of thousands of farms, so we wanted to make sure that this was able to include as many farms as possible,” Romanski said during a June 4 conference call with ag media. “The goal for the program considers the diversity of agriculture in Wisconsin. The governor wanted to be as inclusive as possible with the commodities that are covered.”

On May 20, Evers announced the Wisconsin Farm Support Program, which included $50 million in direct payments to farmers in support of the agricultural sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding is part of the money allocated to Wisconsin through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

The Wisconsin Farm Support Program also included the $15-million Food Security Initiative to combat hunger in Wisconsin.

Farmers eligible for the payments are those who had a gross income between $35,000 and $5 million based on 2019 tax filings. Farmers will receive between $1,000 and $3,500 in direct aid payments made on a sliding scale based on gross income.

The program will be administered by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue and will rely on an online application system. The online application link will be opened on June 15, and there will be a two-week window for farmers to apply.

“There’s a pretty short window, but that’s pretty consistent with what we heard from farm organizations to try to get the dollars out as quickly as possible. It also complies with the governor’s request to get the dollars out the door as quickly as possible,” Romanski said.

Romanski encouraged farmers to file early in case questions arise in the application process. He said officials would be available to talk applicants through the process on the phone.

Food box program questions

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced June 4 that its Farmers to Families Food Box Program had distributed more than 5 million food boxes in support of American farmers and families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the initial $1.2 billion the USDA made available as part of the Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program, only about $9 million was awarded to Wisconsin farmers.

Romanski said DATCP remains in contact with the USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and program administrators regarding Wisconsin farmers’ limited role thus far in the program.

“We are aggressively pursuing more answers to ensure that our producers and the food insecure network have an opportunity to participate in the next round,” Romanski said. “Considering Wisconsin’s stature as a state with a tremendous diversity in agriculture production, I would have expected Wisconsin producers to be more represented in the program.”

June Dairy Month

Wisconsin’s dairy industry contributes $45.6 billion to the state’s economy, and Romanski joined Gov. Evers in calling for citizens of Wisconsin to recognize the importance of the industry during June Dairy Month despite the cancellation of dairy breakfasts around the state.

“Obviously, celebrations are going to look a bit different this year,” Romanski said. “But it’s still important for all of us to commemorate and celebrate the significance of the state’s dairy industry.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wisconsin’s 72nd Alice in Dairyland, Abigail Martin, who hosted a virtual June Dairy Month dairy breakfast on her family’s Rock County dairy farm in early June, stayed with DATCP a little longer than usual while the department finalized details of selecting her replacement.

Rather than taking place at a live event in May, the finals for the 73rd Alice in Dairyland are scheduled for June 19-20. Events will be livestreamed online for public viewing.

Finalists for the 73rd Alice in Dairyland are Rachel Gerbitz of Milton, Erica Helmer of Plymouth, Stephanie Hoff of Thorp, Kaitlin Konder of Glenwood City, Julia Nunes of Chippewa Falls and Grace Schroeder of Cashton.

“Things are going to be done a little bit differently this year, but we will have our 73rd Alice in Dairyland very soon,” Romanski said. “We really appreciate Abigail’s willingness to stay on and continue to support agriculture.”

Romanski appointment

On June 1, Gov. Tony Evers appointed Randy Romanski to serve as Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection.

“Wisconsin’s agricultural community has dealt with challenges for years, from low prices to trade wars to a global pandemic,” Evers said in a news release. “Randy has done an outstanding job leading DATCP through these challenging times, and I believe he’ll continue to do great work as secretary.”

“I am honored and proud that Gov. Evers appointed me as secretary-designee of the Department of Ag, Trade and Consumer Protection,” Romanski said.

Romanski named Angela James deputy secretary following his appointment. James had previously served as DATCP assistant deputy secretary since January 2019.

“We will work very hard and do our best to be a resource to the citizens of the state and the industries we serve,” Romanski said.

Romanski has served as interim secretary of the agency since November, when the state Senate voted against the confirmation of Evers’ previous appointee, Brad Pfaff. Pfaff angered Republicans with criticisms about lack of funding for farmer mental health programs.

Romanski previously served as both the deputy secretary and secretary at DATCP under former Gov. Jim Doyle. He has had a 30-year career in public service.

Wisconsin agriculture groups praised Romanski’s appointment.

“With his history of public service and depth of experience, Randy is well-suited to the role of agriculture secretary,” Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden said in a news release. “He has been a steady leader in the recent turbulent times, helping to pull the agricultural community together as we grapple with the impacts of COVID-19. We look forward to continuing to work with Secretary Romanski on programs that improve life for family farmers throughout Wisconsin.”

“Wisconsin Farm Bureau looks forward to continuing to work with Mr. Romanski, just as we did while he was serving as Interim DATCP Secretary, to support Wisconsin agriculture,” WFBF President Joe Bragger said in a news release. “Many in our agricultural community have faced unthinkable challenges during the last few months. We plan to continue working with Secretary-designee Romanski, DATCP and other stakeholders to support our farmers to the best of our ability.”