In early February, Gov. Tony Evers proposed a budget of $43 million to aid Wisconsin agriculture, including measures to solve meat processing issues and provide aid to Wisconsin farmers.

Executive Director of the Hunger Task Force Sherrie Tussler said the budget intends to distribute prepackaged food to Wisconsin families in need, and looks to do so through collaborative efforts with Wisconsin-based farms and companies.

“It would be the governor and the legislature using Wisconsin farms for feeding families,” Tussler said.

Tussler said Wisconsin’s FoodShare program, which aims to help struggling citizens purchase healthy food and produce, has expanded since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and Evers’ budget proposal will further expand the program.

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Tussler said before the pandemic, FoodShare lacked proper funding, but with COVID-19, the program expanded to meet the needs of hungry Wisconsinites.

Instead of providing families with the minimum household allotment of $16, participants receive $234. Tussler said FoodShare also expanded nutritional programs.

“Let’s keep feeding people while we can,” Tussler said.

Executive Director of Family Farm Defenders John Peck also praised Evers’ budget proposal, emphasizing the benefits for farmers. Peck said efforts to ease farmers’ burden of selling agricultural goods carried his enthusiasm.

“There are a lot of things about our state’s agriculture system that makes it hard for farmers to sell crops directly,” Peck said. “They have to sell it to big corporations [and] we can see why they’re getting bankrupt.”

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The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation also made a statement regarding Evers’ additional proposal, which looks to spur growth in the meat processing industry.

“Local meat processing needs has become a key issue for Farm Bureau members across the entire state,” WFBF said. “Support for current meat processors through additional DATCP inspector positions is much needed. Additionally, encouraging meat processing careers and expansion through the Meat Processing Grant Program will help our state build out this infrastructure.”

Peck said the main issue with the current meat processing system is its complexity, which has forced many farmers to send meat out of state as opposed to working with local businesses. can we explain what this means/what about the system’s complex nature drives away farmers?

Peck said Wisconsin isn’t sufficiently utilizing their local companies.

“We still import 90% of the food from out of state. I’m just shocked by this,” Peck said. “I’m like, what is going on here?”

Tussler said, in her view, Wisconsin is well enough equiped that it should not need to get resources from outside sources.

Peck also said Evers’ budget proposal should aim to solve other issues outside the meat processing industry. Peck said expanded access to high-speed internet, a small farm diversity grant program, expansions to healthcare and improvements to the immigration system for the sake of immigrant farmers would all prove to be vital reforms for rural Wisconsin.

Peck particularly emphasized the benefits for farmers should Wisconsin legalize marijuana.

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Peck said as a lucrative crop, marijuana could provide a much-needed financial boost to farmers currently facing bankruptcy.

“We need to get on that. We’re gonna be left in the dust,” Peck said. “We need something of more value.”

Peck said this increase in revenue from legalizing marijuana could help alleviate the mental health crisis in rural areas, since financial struggles cause depression and suicide among farmers. Peck said allowing farmers to sell marijuana crops would contribute to avoiding bankruptcy.

Peck said he is not optimistic that the mainly Republican Senate will allow for the legalization of marijuana, nor many of the other proposed changes in the budget. He described the entire proposal as Evers’ “wish list” and said the Senate is not likely to agree to the majority of measures.

“We’re going to hope they are going to vote to support their fellow dairy farmers,” Tussler said.