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DATCP Secretary: Increasing Dairy Exports Is Top Priority

Head Of State Agriculture Department Weighs In On Dairy Industry, Agriculture's Role In Improving Water Quality

Roberto Tecpile and John Rosenow walk through the dairy barn
Roberto Tecpile, left, and John Rosenow, owner of Rosenholm dairy farm, walk through the dairy barn in Cochrane, Wis. Caroline Yang for HuffPost

Gov. Tony Evers’ pick to the lead the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection said increasing dairy exports is essential to boosting milk prices for farmers.

DATCP Secretary Brad Pfaff said removing barriers to trade is one of his top priorities as agency head.

“We want to be able to sell our products internationally. We want to be able to have a level playing field to make sure that consumers, may they be in southeast Asia or may they be south of the border in Mexico, have an opportunity to enjoy Wisconsin dairy products and Wisconsin agriculture products,” Pfaff said. “That is something that almost all of us can agree upon.”

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After four years of low milk prices, more farmers organizations have considered or called for managing the supply of milk. Wisconsin Farmers Union leaders have continued to call for supply management as a way to prevent the boom and bust cycle of milk prices. And last December, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation voted to change their stance and consider supply management as an option for the industry.

But Pfaff said he’s more interested in pursuing new markets.

“I recognize that a variety of different farm organizations are talking about what’s happening as far as the overall supply of milk that we do have,” Pfaff said. “We are flush with milk, without a doubt. But I will also say there is a tremendous demand for our product.”

Pfaff said more farmers should invest in insurance and other risk management tools created in the 2018 farm bill as a way to guard against low prices.

And he said more investment is needed in developing new ways to use and market dairy.

“Consumer preferences continue to change. We want to make sure that dairy products here from Wisconsin are a choice for national consumers and as well as international consumers,” Pfaff said.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. recently announced a $750,000 grant for the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The grant will establish a Beverage Innovation Center for small businesses to test and develop new beverage products.

Pfaff said addressing water quality concerns is also top of mind for his department. He said the governor’s proposed increase in funding for county land and water conservation departments would help officials address problems specific to their area.

“Each county is unique. Each watershed can be unique,” Pfaff said. “We can put more specialists, more technicians at a local level, at a county-based level, to work with our landowners, may they be farmers or may they be suburban or rural or urban residents.”

Pfaff said increased funding for producer-led watershed protection grants in the governor’s budget could win bipartisan support from lawmakers.