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Wisconsin Farmers Call For Road, School Funding

Farmers Union To Meet With Lawmakers For Farm And Rural Lobby Day

Andy Manis/AP Photo

Wisconsin farmers are calling for more funding for infrastructure and schools in the new state budget during Tuesday’s Farm and Rural Lobby Day at the state Capitol.

Officials with the Wisconsin Farmers Union, which is organizing the lobby day, said finding a way to fund and maintain roads is one of their top priorities, and they’re open to a range of options to fund road improvements, including potential tax or fee increases.

The union is also calling for better broadband internet access for rural areas and for the state to use a nonpartisan redistricting process, saying rural people don’t feel they’re being represented as well as they could be.

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Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2017-19 budget calls for broadband expansion, and U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat representing the states 2nd District, is sponsoring an expansion bill in Congress.

‘A Fair Shake’ In Education

On education, the Wisconsin Farmers Union wants to keep the state’s farm-to-school program, which Walker’s budget repeals.

Selling locally grown food to schools provides economic benefits for farmers and educational benefits for students, said Nick Levendofsky of the Wisconsin Farmers Union.

“We still have that problem of kids not knowing that milk doesn’t just come from the grocery store, it doesn’t just magically appear on the shelf,” Levendofsky said. “There is a story behind where that came from, and there’s an individual or a group of individuals who got it to that point.”

Levendofsky said the farmers union is working with the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance to review the governor’s education proposals to ensure rural schools “are getting a fair shake,” especially when it comes to sparsity aid.

He said Walker’s budget includes “some things we can probably agree on,” but the 900-plus page document will take time to review.

An Aging Population

Agriculture continues to face challenges because of its graying demographics, Levendofsky said.

“The average age of the American farmer right now is approaching 60 years old. What are we going to do when that generation decides it’s time to retire?” he said. “How are we going to fill that gap as far as making the transition from that generation to the next and ensuring that they’re successful?”

The farmers union supports a bill that would reimburse some student loan debt for beginning farmers. The bill failed in the last legislative session. But its sponsor, Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, plans to bring it up again this year.

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