WCMA Members Applaud Evers’ Budget Investments in Dairy Processing Industry & Rural Communities

Posted By: Rebekah Sweeney Advocacy, WCMA News,

Following Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers’ budget address, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA) members praised his proposed investments in dairy innovation, dairy exports, food security, and rural infrastructure. 

“Wisconsin’s $46 billion dairy industry is growing, thanks in part to the leadership of policymakers in our State Capitol,” said John Umhoefer, WCMA Executive Director.“We appreciate Governor Evers’ proposals to boost support for dairy processors and the rural communities in which most operate, and his message tonight that, when we work together, Wisconsin wins.” 

Evers' proposal provides $2 million for the Wisconsin Initiative for Agricultural Exports (WIAE), an effort launched in December 2021 to support dairy, crop, and meat sales overseas.  WIAE boosts the state’s International Agribusiness Center, and funds industry-run grant programs, including one administered by WCMA which is providing export education and helping dairy processors engage in key international trade shows and marketing campaigns. 

“All around the world, the demand for U.S. dairy products is up – and Wisconsin processors have the opportunity to boost their sales and deliver more value to dairy farmers, if they get in the exporting game,” said Ryan Wucherer, Director of Global Sales and Supply Chain for MCT Dairies, out of Green Bay, and a member of the Wisconsin Agricultural Export Advisory Council.  “Investments in the Wisconsin Initiative for Agricultural Exports help processors overcome practical barriers – things like labeling translation, shipping paperwork, and licensing – and make valuable connections through international trade shows to grow our share of the global marketplace.  We thank Governor Evers and legislative leaders for their ongoing support.”

Evers is also proposing $1.6 million in biennial funding for the Dairy Processor Grant program at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. 

“These targeted, small-dollar dairy processor grants enable companies like mine to innovate and modernize on an expedited time frame, and help Wisconsin maintain its leading role in the global dairy processing industry,” said Paul Scharfman, President of Specialty Cheese Company in Reeseville, and a WCMA Board Member. “We’re thrilled that Governor Evers’ budget would expand access to these grants, not only for the direct impact on dairy processors, but also because their ripple effect is rural economic development and the creation of family-supporting job opportunities.” 

Evers’ budget plan would direct $30 million in state funding to the successful Food Security Initiative, started in 2020 to support food banks and pantries partnering with Wisconsin food processors. The program had previously been funded via the federal American Rescue Plan Act. 

“The Food Security Initiative connected dairy processors with hunger relief organizations at a time of great volatility, and it helped Hunger Task Force buy good cheese from Marieke Gouda. The COVID-19 pandemic has subsided now, but the end to federal aid, coupled with inflation, has some Wisconsin families struggling,” said Marieke Penterman, Owner of Marieke Gouda in Thorp.  “The Governor’s proposal to invest state monies in the Food Security Initiative shows great care for those in need – and a desire to keep aid dollars here in Wisconsin.” 

Evers proposes $15.6 million for the Dairy Innovation Hub, a program run at three University of Wisconsin campuses to support the state’s dairy farmers and processors in their mission to produce nutritious dairy foods in an economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable manner. Since its launch in 2019, the Hub has funded more than 130 projects and 15 faculty positions. 

“Investments in dairy research and industry education are essential, and the Dairy Innovation Hub is delivering world-class resources on both fronts,” said Mike Neu, WCMA Policy Committee Chair, Board Member, and Senior Director of Business Development-Cheese Insights for Chr. Hansen out of Milwaukee.  “We appreciate the bipartisan coalition of state leaders who championed the program’s creation, and the fact that Governor Evers and legislative leaders continue to work across party lines to maintain its positive impact.” 

Evers also called for major investments in rural infrastructure, including road and bridge improvements and broadband expansion, and to address critical workforce needs, including affordable childcare, affordable housing and accessible vocational training. 

“Governor Evers’ budget invests in Wisconsin’s rural communities, fostering an environment in which dairy processors can attract and retain top talent, and grow their operations,” said Steve Bechel, President of WCMA’s Board of Directors and President and CEO of Eau Galle Cheese in Durand.  “Targeted aid for rural road improvements, rural childcare and housing affordability, and rural broadband expansion will strengthen our state now and for many years to come.”