Wisconsin legislators are introducing three bills this fall that will help struggling farmers. The bills take direct aim at a number of financial stumbling blocks that farmers face and are well warranted. But while helping, they are simply treating the symptoms and not curing the disease.
Taxpayers would help farmers pay off their student loans, transfer their operations from one generation to another and create incentives to start small farms under a package of bills announced Tuesday.
The legislation is aimed at giving Wisconsin’s farming industry a boost at a time when bankruptcies are decimating its ranks — especially among dairy producers.
“We think they will help farmers transition into the future,” Rep. Dave Considine, D-Baraboo, told reporters Tuesday. “The three bills strengthen opportunities for Wisconsin farmers at every stage of their careers.”
Under one bill, $224,000 would pay for two new employees within the University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Profitability in Madison to help farmers with financial decisions related to the transfer of their operations to a new generation or new owners.
Another bill would set aside $250,000 annually for the state agriculture agency, which would provide up to $50,000 for producers who want to start a new operation on no more than 50 acres. The grants also would be awarded to producers who want to add a new product to their existing operation or want to pay down their debt after adding a new product.
Beginning farmers still paying off student loans would receive up to $30,000 over five years from the state to go toward the debt under a third bill. By 2024, the state would set aside $600,000 annually for the program under the legislation.
All three of these bills will be genuinely helpful. We all know that student debt for nearly everyone attending college or even tech schools is a burden. With the value of real estate and cost of other farming assets, transfer of ownership within a farming family certainly is daunting. And just like other startups, startup farmers can certainly use help.
But the biggest stumbling block for smaller farms and family farms is being left untouched. And that’s the extremely low price being paid for fluid milk. And that results from over production of milk across the nation and particularly in Wisconsin.
It is unlikely that demand for milk will increase anytime in the near future so reducing the number of milk producers is necessary. And given the other environmental issues around Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations here in Wisconsin…I suggest the next thing the legislature takes up is reducing the size and number of CAFOs.
Now that seems like governmental intrusion into the free market…and it is. Except that agriculture (and dairy farming in particular) is already highly regulated. And to protect the family farm and the air and water quality in the state for the rest of us…let’s go for it. Reduce the number of large producers until we get the production of milk down to where the market is.
Let prices move upward as supply decreases…let small farmers make money on milk production after years of struggling. And then those first three proposals above will have a serious chance of helping Wisconsin farmers survive.