Wisconsin’s newly-passed state budget includes new and increased investments for agricultural and rural priorities.
The budget was approved by the state Assembly by a vote of 64-34. The next day, the state Senate approved the budget 23-9. In both instances, the budget received a measure of bipartisan support, with a handful of Democrats voting with Republicans who control the majority.
On July 8, Evers signed the budget, using his broad veto authority to make 50 changes.
Newly introduced in this budget was a meat processor grant program. The state budget allocates $200,000 for each year of the biennium for that program. During a July 15 ag media call, Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary-designee Randy Romanski said department staff were already working on a request for proposals for the program.
The previously established Dairy Processor Grant program was funded and expanded in the budget as well.
The state’s Broadband Expansion Grant program will see additional funding. The budget allocates $129 million in funding over the biennium. That figure includes $125 million paid for through borrowing, plus at least $2 million annually from the state’s universal service fund. The 2019-2021 budget had invested roughly $50 million in the program.
Also new to the 2021-2023 budget is funding for the Wisconsin Initiative for Agricultural Exports. That funding includes more than $1 million for the program over the current biennium.
The budget also continues funding for farmer mental health assistance.
Regarding soil and water health, the budget includes funding for county conservation partners, increases annual funding for producer-led watershed grants and allocates $7 million over the biennium for Wisconsin’s Soil and Water Resource Management Program.
Also funded were four additional state meat inspector positions and other staffing related to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
The budget makes several investments in infrastructure — beyond broadband — as well. Included in that portion of the budget are $100 million for a one-time local road improvement program in addition to investments in harbors and freight infrastructure.
Agriculture budget reaction
In a statement released shortly after the budget passage, Romanski said it was good to see bipartisan agreement on budgeting for the state’s agriculture industry, which contributes $104.8 billion to the state economy.
Regarding agriculture, Romanski highlighted the budget’s investments in processor innovation and expansion, increased export and marketing opportunities and conservation assistance.
He also drew attention to the funding increases for broadband and additional transportation infrastructure.
“Whether we are talking about moving commodities or connecting people through broadband, it’s good to see the legislature agree with the Governor on these key investments,” Romanski said in the statement.
During the July 15 call, Romanski said while the final budget did not include everything for agriculture that was included in Evers’ budget proposal, full inclusion is something that never happens and the budget still includes many provisions for agriculture.
The Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association also praised the agricultural investments in the state budget, particularly the increased funding for the Dairy Processor Grant Program, the new export initiative and the investments in broadband.
“Bipartisan support for targeted, smart investments in Wisconsin’s dairy industry is most welcome news for farmers and processors, as they continue to meet the challenges of market volatility and a workforce shortage,” John Umhoefer, WCMA executive director, said in a statement. “Collaboration will remain the key to success for America’s Dairyland.”
Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden said in a statement that organization members were pleased that funding was included for priorities they have advocated for, including rural broadband, meat processing infrastructure, conservation and rural mental health programs.
“The budget includes some significant funding for Wisconsin agriculture that will build our resiliency coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Von Ruden said.
Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President Kevin Krentz said the organization was also “pleased with several key provisions in the recently passed biennial budget that will impact farmers and rural residents.”
Among the priorities specifically noted by Krentz in his statement was funding for state agriculture specialists, the meat processor grant program, additional meat inspector positions, the Dairy Processor Grant program, the new export initiative, farmer mental health assistance and upgrades to the Barron County veterinary diagnostic lab.
While largely supportive of the budget, Krentz said there was still work to do legislatively, including on administrative rule N151 (regarding nitrates) at the Department of Natural Resources and on Truth in Labeling legislation.