Gov. Tony Evers visited Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association member Eau Galle Cheese Factory at its production facility in Durand on Nov. 22 for a tour and discussion of dairy industry challenges and opportunities.
“Our family has a history and passion for cheesemaking, and we’re eager to grow our business here in Wisconsin,” said Steve Bechel, Vice President of Operations for Eau Galle Cheese Factory and WCMA First Vice President. “With reasonable regulation and targeted investments in the dairy industry, the state can help us overcome the challenges of dynamic changes in international trade and a widespread workforce shortfall.”
Eau Galle Cheese Factory, a family-owned business which opened in 1945, makes award-winning Italian-style cheeses, including Asiago and Parmesan, crafted from fresh milk sourced from 39 farmers within a 25-mile radius of its manufacturing facility. In 2019, the company reinvested in its cheese brining system, replacing an outdated system to allow for added capacity for future growth. Today, the business employs 27 people full-time, and nine people on a part-time basis.
“Our dairy industry is such an important part of Wisconsin’s economy and our heritage, but last year, we lost almost two dairy farms a day,” said Gov. Evers. “We have to do more to connect the dots to make sure our farmers have the support they need to be successful, and that’s why I was excited to visit Eau Galle Cheese Factory today to talk about how to best support the dairy industry in our state.”
In the first year of his term, Gov. Evers has supported key legislative and regulatory efforts for dairy manufacturers and processors in Wisconsin.
Gov. Evers supported the creation of the Dairy Innovation Hub, a program which will direct $8.8 million in state funding for increased training and industry development initiatives at the University of Wisconsin campuses in Madison, Platteville and River Falls. He announced a $750,000 Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation grant for the creation of the Beverage Innovation Center at the Center for Dairy Research and is helping to guide the ongoing CDR building project.
Gov. Evers also recently signed into law Senate Bill 219, expanding access to capital for rural business owners, including dairy manufacturers and processors. Senate Bill 219 was unanimously approved by both houses of the Wisconsin State Legislature.
Conceived by Wisconsin Dairy Task Force 2.0 members, this new law launches a pilot program at the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority. Using existing funds available through the Agribusiness Guarantee Program, $3 million in loan guarantee authority will now be directed each year to rural development projects, including brick-and-mortar investments, equipment and machinery, marketing, and working capital.
The pilot will guarantee up to 25% of a loan, or $750,000, whichever is less. The borrower is required to pay back the entirety of the loan, with a state commitment only coming into play in the event of a default. All borrowers will be subject to rigorous vetting to participate in the program.
At the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, dairy licensing examinations are now offered in Spanish, as well as in English. DATCP has also proposed the elimination of annual renewals of rBST affidavits, a change which would reduce time-consuming and duplicative paperwork for farmers and processors alike. Via WDATCP, the Evers Administration has also supported legislation to require the accurate labeling of dairy products and plant-based imitation products in Wisconsin.
At the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Evers appointees have continued the issuance of multi-discharger variances and have actively pursued trades of water quality credits between farms and processors.
“We appreciate Gov. Evers’ attention to WCMA members’ ideas and concerns, and we look forward to working with him and with legislative leaders to grow dairy manufacturing and processing businesses in Wisconsin,” said John Umhoefer, WCMA Executive Director.