WCMA Testimony in Support of Wisconsin State Senate Bill 325
Testimony: May 5, 2021
Wisconsin State Senate Committee on Agriculture and Tourism
Re: Senate Bill 325
Submitted by: Rebekah Sweeney, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association
Madam Chair and Members,
I’m Rebekah Sweeney, and I work as Communications, Education and Policy Director for the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.
Since 1891, WCMA has served as an advocate, networking hub and trusted provider of information and education for dairy product manufacturers. Today, our organization has grown to represent nearly 700 companies and cooperatives nationwide, with membership including 88 dairy manufacturers or processors with Wisconsin operations and 223 companies based in Wisconsin that supply goods or services to our industry.
I’m pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you today on behalf of WCMA members and in support of Senate Bill 325, designed to boost the export of Wisconsin agricultural products, including dairy goods.
Wisconsin’s dairy industry contributes $45.6 billion in revenue and supports nearly 160,000 jobs statewide - and our potential for growth is limitless if we can continue to innovate, modernize our operations and reach new global markets.
That last goal is key, as Wisconsin dairy processors, supported by groups like ours and the industry’s marketing wing, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, have already done an excellent job selling their goods to Americans. In 2019, per capita consumption of cheese reached a new record of 38.6 pounds. Much of that is coming from America’s Dairyland. Wisconsin is the nation’s leading cheese-producing state – in 2020 we set a new record, producing 3.39 billion pounds of natural cheese. Ninety-six (96) percent of that cheese was sold domestically.
Of course, that means that only four percent of Wisconsin cheese was exported, pointing to a major opportunity for growth. Wisconsin accounts for about 40 percent of total U.S. cheese exports and 25 percent of all whey products exported from the U.S. To encourage state dairy farms and dairy manufacturers to grow and pass successful businesses to their next generation, we believe an aggressive expansion into world markets is crucial for Wisconsin’s dairy industry.
I want to be clear: the International Agribusiness Center at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection already is incredibly impactful, and we have the director and his team of three economic development consultants to thank for much of the growth in ag exports in recent years. Those four people are responsible for supporting what currently amounts to $3.37 billion worth of exports.
But this team is limited by its size and also by the budget resources allocated by DATCP, through STEP grants from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
At WEDC, there is an ExporTech™ program offering technical and financial assistance, and Global Business Development grants making a positive difference for some exporters, though these programs are not ag-specific.
Senate Bill 325 stands to invigorate this activity, providing new resources to increase the impact of both agencies as they support ag business owners endeavoring to export.
Wisconsin dairy farms and processors focus their resources on creating the highest-quality food products. The logistics involved in navigating global trade are, as one might expect, daunting, and these global challenges hold back many small and mid-sized Wisconsin dairy processors from attempting sales abroad. With this focused funding, WEDC and DATCP can open global markets by helping our manufacturers understand consumer preferences overseas and by assisting our manufacturers with the technical requirements of exporting, from labeling and certifications, to shipping, distribution and delivery.
And, now is the right time for investments in agricultural exports, with household incomes on the rise in emerging markets, enabling more dairy product purchases, and new trade agreements in place.
To illustrate the breadth of current opportunities, consider that in 2020, an estimated 2 billion people living in Asian countries are classified as members of the middle class. That number is set to increase to 3.5 billion by 2030. That’s more than ten times the population of the United States. Building new sales in Southeast Asia, China, Japan and other growing markets can provide a tremendous measure of stability and profitability for farmer and processors here in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin also has the opportunity to capitalize on new export opportunities in Mexico and Canada, our top dairy export markets today, thanks to the signing of the USMCA. According to the International Trade Commission, that agreement can support an increase in U.S. dairy exports of more than $314 million a year and bolster dairy farm revenue by an additional $548 million over its first six years. Let’s make sure Wisconsin farmers and processors experience some of that growth.
We thank Senator Ballweg and Representative Kurtz, authors of this bill, for recognizing the opportunities in this moment and the urgent need for action. And we thank Governor Evers for his proposed investments in agricultural exports, as well.
With bipartisan support and existing cooperation between the state and private industry, we look forward to growth for Wisconsin dairy overseas, and to a stronger, more stable dairy industry for years to come.