With a wide breadth and depth of responsibilities, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is truly the people’s agency. We touch the lives of every Wisconsin citizen and visitor every day with our programs protecting human, animal, environmental and financial health.
My family has farmed in La Crosse County since they first came to this country in the mid-to-late 1800s. I’ve had the privilege of working in Senator Herb Kohl’s and Congressman Ron Kind’s offices, heading the state office for the USDA Farm Service Agency and serving as the National Deputy Administrator for the USDA Farm Service Agency. In both my personal and professional life, I’ve advocated for Wisconsin farmers, rural communities and agribusinesses, and for Wisconsin’s citizens as a whole. In my role as DATCP Secretary, I get to continue that work.
Agriculture is an $88 billion industry in Wisconsin. Every citizen of our state has a stake in agriculture. The breadth of DATCP’s responsibilities is broader than many people may realize. Here’s just a glimpse into what our six divisions do each day:
Animal Health: At DATCP, we both prevent and respond to animal disease. Recently, we’ve been in the news for our response to a bovine tuberculosis case. We traced the movements of cattle nationwide and continue to test animals in our state. The Animal Health division also registers livestock premises, manages chronic wasting disease on deer farms, inspects dog seller facilities, regulates fish farms and tracks rabies, all to protect animal and human health. The Veterinary Examining Board is also housed here.
Food and Recreational Safety: We ensure the safety of our food system from farm to table by licensing dairy farms and plants, restaurants, meat processors, food-processing plants, grocery stores and restaurants. You might be surprised to learn that we also inspect hotels, water parks, swimming pools, camps and campgrounds. When you’re sitting around the campfire this summer with hot dogs, bratwursts and cheese curds, DATCP is on the job.
Agricultural Resource Management: Wisconsin’s new hemp program is one of this division’s most high-profile efforts. The staff also prevents and controls plants pests and issues pest bulletins to guide grower decisions about pesticide use. This broad-ranging division also regulates the sale and use of pesticides, oversees cleanup of pesticide spills, licenses fertilizer manufacture and sales, inspects livestock feed and pet food plants, helps train farmers in manure management, works with counties to fund and engineer conservation practices and coordinates farmland preservation activities in the state.
Agricultural Development: The connection between consumers and farmers is more vital than ever, whether the consumer lives across the road or across the globe. Our International Agribusiness Center connects Wisconsin suppliers with world markets for our famous dairy products, as well as our dairy genetics, corn and soybeans, cranberries and wood products. Meanwhile, our Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin and Farm-to-School programs connect farmers to local consumers and institutions. In addition, the Wisconsin Farm Center helps families in passing their farms to the next generation, dealing with creditors and struggling with stress.
Trade and Consumer Protection: You may have seen alerts from our Consumer Protection Bureau, warning about scams, shady home and auto repair practices, robocalls, identity theft and product safety. Our Trade Bureau inspects grain and vegetables; administers the Producer Security Fund to protect farmers when elevators or dairy plants default on their obligations; and assures that gas pumps and cash registers are accurate and underground storage tanks are safe.
All these programs are important to Wisconsin, and each one plays its own critical role in moving our economy forward and making our state a great place to live. Right now, some of my highest priorities are working to strengthen the dairy industry, helping protect water quality and nurturing our brand new hemp industry to offer new options for agriculture. I hope you will join me in bringing your thoughts and creative solutions to the table.
This column originally appeared in the 2019 June|July issue of Rural Route.