As another year wraps up, it’s appropriate to reflect on what Farm Bureau has worked on this year and where our policy initiatives sit. Like every year before, this year came with challenges for our members and governmental relations staff with turmoil in politics and split government on both the state and national level. Regardless, our members and staff have always approached policy with optimism and this year is no different. Any win for agriculture is important, especially in our current climate.
Our three biggest items for focus this year on the state level were water, dairy and hemp.
While Farm Bureau has always been engaged in water quality initiatives such as UW Discovery Farms and farmer-led watershed groups, this year we were even more engaged on this topic. The Governor put this topic in the spotlight early in his term by declaring 2019 the ‘Year of Clean Drinking Water.’
Farm Bureau made it a priority to give our members the tools and resources needed to share their water quality story at the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality hearings held around the state. To kick off the series of hearing, I testified in Madison on behalf of our state’s farmers by sharing information about how invested our farmers are in protecting and preserving water quality for generations to come.
We continue to monitor and engage with this issue as we all care about access to clean drinking water.
Dairy was another high-level priority item for WFBF. Following a new resolution from last year’s delegate session we tasked our state Dairy Committee with looking at the challenges our dairy economy is facing from all sides. They met far more often than in normal years and have provided their policy recommendations to the WFBF Board of Directors for review. There is sure to be further dairy policy discussion at the WFBF Annual Meeting.
Funding for the UW System’s Dairy Innovation Hub was also an initiative WFBF weighed in on. This $8.8 million investment in research for our state’s dairy community is extremely valuable as it will add researchers at the three agricultural colleges in Madison, Platteville and River Falls. The research conducted will focus on four areas: land and water use, human health and nutrition, animal health and welfare, and improving and integrating farm businesses and rural communities. We need this research now more than ever if we want to continue to be the experts others come to for dairy knowledge and practical guidance.
Lastly, hemp continues to be a popular topic of conversation here in Wisconsin. WFBF helped get this newly reintroduced crop back in the state and we know we need to keep giving it attention to succeed. Wisconsin farmers and processors engaged with cautious excitement during the 2018 growing season. In 2019, the excitement grew as was made evident by a tremendous increase in both hemp grower and processor license applications.
On the federal level, hemp won a huge victory when it was removed from the list of controlled substances and was included as a crop in the Farm Bill allowing for crop insurance coverage.
In addition to hemp, there are several other issues WFBF has been monitoring on the national level. We have worked to make it clear that Wisconsin wolf numbers need to be addressed. WFBF participated in town halls and hearings, but most of all rallied our members to submit comments to support a proposal to delist gray wolves from the endangered species list and turn population management back to the DNR. We are hopeful that our work in Wisconsin will be heard on the national level.
Dairy Revenue Protection made its way to the stage this year. This program is designed to help farmers manage against unanticipated declines in revenue from milk price volatility. This new product was developed by the American Farm Bureau in collaboration with the Risk Management Association of the USDA.
In a time of price volatility, farmers need to have access to effective risk management tools, and I’m pleased that it could be added to Rural Mutual’s existing portfolio to provide more options in our risk management toolbox.
It has been a busy year for Farm Bureau and there is never a shortage of topics we are monitoring and engaging with on behalf of our members. While you’re busy working on the farm, WFBF is proud to be working for you on the issues that matter most in Madison and Washington, D.C. Thank you for your continued support.
This column originally appeared in the October|November 2019 issue of Rural Route.
Jim Holte was elected president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation in 2012. He was elected to the WFBF Board of Directors in 1995. He represents District 9 which consists of the Barron, Chippewa, Dunn, Pierce, Polk, Rusk, Sawyer and St. Croix county Farm Bureaus as well as the Superior Shores County Farm Bureau (made up of Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas and Iron counties). Jim was elected to the American Farm Bureau Federation Board of Directors in January of 2015 as a representative of the Midwest region. Jim grows corn, soybeans and alfalfa on 460 acres of land south of Elk Mound. He and his wife, Gayle, have two children and five grandchildren.