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Evers Proposing Plans to Address Challenges in Agriculture
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 01/23/2020

Governor Tony Evers says Wisconsin is called America's Dairyland for a reason, but feels a number of things need to be addressed in order to help the state's farmers after many years of low commodity prices. During his second State of the State Address on Wednesday evening, he told the legislature that he's ready to announce a three-pronged plan to spur the agricultural sector and wants to call lawmakers into special session next week to consider ways to invest in farmers, ag industries, and rural communities.

"Despite our history, this tradition has been challenged," Evers acknowledged. "Between 2011 and 2018, Wisconsin lost about a third of our dairy farms. We lead the nation in farm bankruptcies. We've endured the consequences of unnecessary and unproductive tariffs and trade wars. And we've heard people who've said there's no place for small farms anymore--they ought to go big or bust. Well, they're wrong."

Evers said the details of his initiative will be unveiled on Thursday, which includes creating the Wisconsin Initiative for Dairy Exports, bolstering the Farm-to-School program, and introducing a new Farm-to-Fork program to connect farmers with universities, technical colleges, hospitals, and local businesses.

"We have to start maximizing efficiency in our small and middle-sized farms, and we need to build Wisconsin's dairy brand in international markets and increase dairy exports," he said. "We're going to set a goal of increasing Wisconsin's dairy exports to 20 percent of the United States' milk supply by 2024. Additionally, we are going to expand our Farm Center and increase staffing at UW Extension to ensure farmers and agricultural industries have partners and support closer to home."

The governor also promised to create a new program that will focus on getting farmers access to mental health services through the Wisconsin Farm Center. And he announced plans to work with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to establish the Office of Rural Prosperity, which aims to provide state programs and resources tailored to rural communities, businesses and workers.

Lastly, he brought back an old campaign pledge to create a blue-ribbon commission to help promote agriculture and rural economic prosperity.

"Our Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity will convene folks and different industries from across our state. They'll work together to develop long-term strategies on how we can best support the needs of rural Wisconsinites and rural communities."

Meanwhile, Evers used his speech to praise lawmakers for cutting state income taxes and expanding access to healthcare in rural areas by making sure that Medicaid covers telehealth services in Wisconsin. And he announced that a new task force will be convened to address the problem with rising student debt.

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