So the Wisconsin State Legislature finished its session. What happened?
April 3, 2012
As our legislators head back to campaign, it’s time to take stock: how did sustainable agriculture fare? Here’s the scoop.
Let’s start with the good news. While almost all state programs have been cut over the past couple of years, grazing programs did fairly well. The Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative got a modest cut, from $400,000 a year to around $375,000, so Wisconsin’s graziers and hopeful graziers will still have help for creating grazing plans and sharing information.
Wisconsin’s local foods program, Buy Local Buy Wisconsin, didn’t do as well. First the Governor axed the program from his budget proposal, then the Legislature restored the program and most of its funding (thank you to everyone who called in support!), providing $200,000 for grants for innovative projects that increase local foods. But the grants program still wasn’t funded! Even though the state budget did pass last summer, it was passed with a hole in it. Think of it as a sticky note on the budget that said, “Find where to cut several million dollars out of this later — then it will be balanced.”
Such one-time cuts are called “lapses,” and both parties have used them. This lapse hit the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection pretty hard, with a $2.3 million hole they needed to plug this year. What programs were sacrificed to fill this hole? All of the Buy Local Buy Wisconsin grants, as well as all of the Agriculture Development and Diversification grants. Soil and Water Conservation took the biggest hit, losing $1.1 million for on-the-ground county conservation employees who work with farmers to conserve our soil and water.
Over on the Farm to School side of things, the Legislature did not provide any funding for grants to help schools who want to start or strengthen Farm to School programs. The Legislature did provide funding for a Statewide Coordinator, which will go a long way in helping schools…as soon as that position is filled. The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection received the funds to hire the position back in July 2011, and hopefully will begin the hiring process soon.