DBA members connect with lawmakers on priorities

As the state begins crafting the 2021-23 budget, the Dairy Business Association showed today how important it is for its members to be fully engaged in the legislative process.

The association’s Dairy Day at the Capitol provided an opportunity for farmers and corporate members to have meaningful conversations with lawmakers. The advocacy event, which was held by video conference, brought together more than 50 members and staff who heard from key decision-makers and visited with lawmakers and their staffs about DBA’s priorities.

“This is an excellent opportunity to highlight the issues that are important to the dairy community,” John Holevoet, director of government affairs at DBA, said. “As our state budget process moves along, we need to make sure our lawmakers know what their farmer constituents value. The format of this event also allows members to have maximum impact in a relatively short amount of time.”

Before the members split up into teams for the lawmaker visits, they heard from several presenters.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin

Maintaining Wisconsin’s place as leader of the global dairy industry through the Dairy Innovation Hub should remain a top priority, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said. The research program gives momentum to innovative ideas and helps economic growth in the rural portions of the state, she said.

“(Agriculture Secretary Tom) Vilsack acknowledges the necessity for these programs,” Baldwin said. “In too much of agriculture these days, producers are finding the sale of their products does not bring in enough money. So, they have to innovate and add value.”

Baldwin also said she continues to push forward with the DAIRY PRIDE Act, which would prevent imitation dairy products from being mislabeled with terms such as milk, yogurt and cheese.

Legislative panel

Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, and Reps. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, and Greta Neubauer, D-Racine — all members of the budget-writing Joint Committee on Finance — shared their perspectives on the importance of getting back to the agriculture-related goals of last year’s special legislative session, including the Wisconsin Initiative on Dairy Exports.

“These are investments in the industry,” Born said. “As a leader in the dairy industry, we have to get more of our products out into the world.”

Loudenbeck said the totality of the budget must be considered.

“Each (agricultural) issue individually has merit, but when we look at the whole package, there is a process we must go through to choose priorities,” she said. “We took a big leap of faith in supporting the Dairy Innovation Hub, so now that it exists, it’s important to show value.”

Loudenbeck said pivoting to the most important issues right now is key. That means farmers should be sure to speak up about their priorities.

Neubauer said she wants to see an “ambitious” budget.

“COVID has certainly impacted how we’re thinking about this budget, but we need to address the longer-term issues that impact all of Wisconsinites,” she said.

Transportation funding is one of the important issues for Wisconsin agriculture. Bernier said she favors a targeted approach to the issue of deteriorating roads.

“While I’m not sure if there’s an appetite for a long-term solution right now, I believe we over-utilize our property and income taxes and under-utilize our sales tax, so we need to balance that so we can use sales tax for road improvements,” she said.

Economic development

“Completing economic projects with dairy in mind is crucial for the success of the Wisconsin economy and the dairy industry,” Missy Hughes, secretary and CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, said.

Her current focus is figuring out how to handle all the federal stimulus money flowing into the state.

“Opportunities continue to be challenges,” Hughes said. “A healthy economy involves much more than just having jobs.”

Getting the word out about priorities of DBA lets lawmakers know they must think about multiple issues at one time. Hughes said they are central to Wisconsin’s economy.

“These things are necessary to grow a healthy economy.”