Sixty family farmers and rural advocates gathered in Madison Jan. 18th for Wisconsin Farmers Union’s Farm & Rural Lobby Day, where they advocated for policy priorities set by the grassroots membership at the organization’s recent state convention. Among priorities discussed with representatives were support for clean water and conservation, expanding rural broadband, access to affordable healthcare, continued development of meat processing infrastructure, and increased staffing for antitrust enforcement.
“In Farmers Union, we know that we’re stronger together, and lobby day is a prime example of that,” said WFU President Darin Von Ruden, a dairy farmer from Westby. “The issues we carry forward at lobby day are the result of farmers from throughout the state reasoning together and bringing policy from their local or county chapter to state convention and onward to the Capitol.”
Lt. Governor Sara Rodrigeuz provided a special welcome at the event, giving a nod to her grandparents’ dairy farming roots and lifting up efforts made by the state legislature over the past year to improve supply chains, bolster Wisconsin agriculture, and strengthen the workforce.
“Wisconsin farmers are key to our past, our present, and our future,” Lt. Gov. Rodriguez said. “Our Administration understands that and we are prepared to keep providing for our rural communities.”
In particular, she pointed to $100 million directed to the Farm Support Program, doubling of funding for dairy processor grants, and a commitment of more than $15 million to bolster Wisconsin’s meat processing supply chain and workforce. Though initiatives have been underway to improve rural broadband, expand health care access, and improve water quality, she noted that work remains to be done.
“Our administration believes every Wisconsinite should be able to trust the water they drink; we know that is not the case for everyone in the state,” she said. “We will continue working on issues like clean water, getting access to high-speed internet, expanding access to health care and mental health services, and ensuring Wisconsin continues to lead the nation as America’s Dairyland. Together, I know we can tackle the challenges ahead of us and build a healthier, more sustainable state for all.”
Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Joan Ballweg also addressed the assembled farmers, sharing how the state is well-positioned with an anticipated $6.6 billion surplus heading into the state budget season.
“A large component of that surplus is one-time money through the federal government … we need to be strategic in how we use those surplus dollars,” she said.
The Senator highlighted recent victories in investments in dairy and meat processing grants and stressed that investments in Wisconsin agriculture post-pandemic should continue to address the “real resurgence of people wanting to know where their food is coming from.”
This was Clarissa Murphy’s first experience at Farm & Rural Lobby Day. A Dane County Farmers Union member, Murphy and her family run Dream Farm LLC near Cross Plains, a goat dairy and farmstead creamery.
“I’m feeling really encouraged,” Murphy said. “Being in the room with a lot of folks who work hard but who also take time out of their day to make legislation to hopefully keep the farming industry strong for years to come is really inspiring.”
For Daniel Kvalheim, the issues covered felt especially crucial and timely. A retired agriculture teacher, Kvalheim has been a member of Farmers Union since the 1980s.
“What I appreciate about Farmers Union and what makes this day so important is the nonpartisan nature of the organization and how it does not lean toward one side of the aisle or the other,” Kvalheim said. “Farmers Union, particularly in the last 20 years, has had an openness to accepting and working with all types of agriculture and to working toward making all sectors of farming more profitable. That has come with some growing pains, but I think we’re on the right track, as we’ve seen here today.”
WFU members will have the opportunity to lobby again this fall, when hundreds of farmers from throughout the country will gather in Washington, D.C. for the National Farmers Union Fly-In in September. Scholarships are available for first-time attendees. Members will also carry policy forward at the National Farmers Union Convention March 5-7 in San Francisco.