DBA is going to be dealing with a lot of change in 2019, which will bring opportunities and challenges.
The state Legislature and new governor take office on Monday. The Tony Evers administration means new leadership at all state agencies.
As a group that lobbies on behalf of the dairy community, we are primarily concerned with those running the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). The people tapped to be new secretaries at both agencies — Preston Cole (DNR) and Brad Pfaff (DATCP) — have a history of pragmatic leadership.
We are optimistic we can continue a good working relationship with them. We will continue to share members’ stories, identify improvements and be a sounding board for new ideas at DNR and DATCP.
CAFO permitting: One of our main legislative initiatives from last session was a push to revamp the CAFO permitting process. We wanted to move the program from DNR to DATCP and improve its functionality. We believe there is value in this change regardless of who is governor. We will continue to talk about why this change makes sense for farmers, state government and the environment.
Driver’s permits: Another unfinished priority is a desire to create a driver’s permit for non-citizens. Some of these people used to have Wisconsin driver’s licenses, but a change in federal law put a stop to that practice. Wisconsin can pass legislation to work around the federal requirements. This is a public safety issue. We want to make sure all people on our roads are properly trained, insured and licensed. It is also an economic development issue. We need to make it easy for workers to get to jobs in rural Wisconsin, including on dairy farms.
Nutrient trading: A new priority for us is to streamline the rules for nutrient trading. This is a way to create a new revenue stream for farmers during challenging economic times, while also promoting conservation practices and providing other regulated industries and local governments with a practical path to compliance.
Here’s how this could work. Consider a wastewater treatment plant in a small town that would have to spend $10 million on new equipment to achieve a small improvement in water quality. The utility could make that investment and pass on the cost to the ratepayers in town, but what if the utility could instead partner with local farmers for $2 million and have a much more significant impact on water quality? Why would we not want to give them the option to do more for the environment while spending less?
Budget process: The start of the new legislative session also means the beginning of a new, two-year budget process. We want to ensure that farmer priorities are not forgotten in this year’s spending bill. This includes a long-term solution to transportation funding that does not overlook rural infrastructure needs. We also want to see the grant program for farmer-led watershed initiatives that have been so successful in the past four years to continue to be funded at or above the current level. Finally, we want to see a renewed investment in dairy and agricultural research at our state universities.
As we work on all these priorities, we need your help. We are going to focus a lot of time on grassroots outreach and increasing member involvement. We cannot be successful without our members. Working with you, we are confident that we can navigate the challenges and capitalize on opportunities the coming year will bring.