June is Dairy Month Is Not Enough
by Senator Jon Erpenbach, 27th Senate District
It is a simple fact that families are leaving their farms in Wisconsin. We are bleeding in the industry that built this state. As we enter the season where politicians proclaim June is Dairy Month we need to ask ourselves if the Legislature and Governor are really doing all they can to support rural Wisconsin and the farms in it; the answer is no.
Supporting farm families in Wisconsin is not just about crop loss and tax credits, it is about supporting the economic development that will help build the farms of the future including access to broadband internet and supporting rural based economies as they strive to build and diversify. Supporting rural Wisconsin is also about making sure our infrastructure and roads meet the needs of our rural communities. Making public schools a priority because we know they serve as an “anchor tenant” in every small town and growing the relationship between rural schools and farms can only help.
Making connections between our family farms and schools is not only good for education, it is also good for the family farm. Farm to School programs have been on the chopping block under Governor Walker, barely being saved by the Legislature. We should be expanding those relationships and supporting the role of Farm to School in our communities. Wisconsin has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into Fab Labs – Fabrication Laboratories – in our schools, how many of them look at the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math future in agriculture? Most of our rural schools don’t have the funding base to even apply for the Fab Lab grant program much less to make Fab Labs agriculture based.
I have written before about the disappointment I felt when the Legislature failed to pass a bipartisan $50.0 million dollar a year Rural Economic Development grant and loan program despite passing out of the Joint Committee on Finance (state budget committee). As I read another article about struggling farms and suicide rates amongst farmers on the rise, I cannot help but again wonder what could have been done if rural Wisconsin was as important as Foxconn to the ruling politicians in Wisconsin. $50.0 million dollars a year is not as good as $4.5 billion, but it is something.
Waiting another year is not good enough. In 2017 over 500 family farms were lost in Wisconsin, we simply cannot wait. We can do more and we should do more. Designated rural economic development funds, affordable Fab Labs with an agriculture focus, expanded Farm to School initiatives, prioritized rural broadband to family farms, and more support for our schools and infrastructure deeper into our farming communities would be a good start.
Please reach out to my office if you have ideas about how we can change Wisconsin law to support our rural communities more: firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-549-0027 or 608-266-6670.