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Working the land

Gulls fly behind a farmer as he works the soil of a field in Caledonia on Dec. 7, 2016. The 2018 Farm Bill has been passed and signed by President Donald Trump, which means funding can be provided for several local projects. 

RACINE COUNTY — Although the 2018 Farm Bill might seem like a Washington issue, the legislation has the attention of the Racine County Board.

The 2014 Agricultural Act, known as the “Farm Bill,” expired on Sept. 30. The 2018 Farm Bill has been passed by both houses of Congress; however, the House and the Senate passed different versions of the bill, so lawmakers are trying to reconcile the bills before sending one to President Donald Trump’s desk.

The County Board passed a resolution on Oct. 25 to “urge Congress to enact the 2018 Farm Bill.”

Supervisor Robert Grove, a Caledonia farmer, said the bill is important to the Racine County economy.

“This is an important piece of federal legislation that we need to contact our state and federal legislators to get this passed,” Grove said. “The federal money gets funneled through the state down to the county for many projects that are being done … hopefully this will get our legislators’ attention to act on it.”

Supervisor Monte Osterman of Racine, a member of the Wisconsin Land and Water Board of Directors, said he has advocated for Racine needs at the state and federal level.

“The thing that’s holding up the Farm Bill now is SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program),” Osterman said. “It has to do with work requirements and both sides of the aisle are fighting over that. But they’re a lot closer than they’ve ever been.”

According to the resolution, federal programs like the Environmental Quality Incentive Program and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program “are valuable resources” for the county.

“The biggest thing is there’s a fight over local decision-making and there’s some provisions where they’re trying to pull away and erode the local decision-making process,” Osterman said. “It’s important that this resolution from our local legislators go to all of our congressional delegation as well as the Senate committee and (House) committee that have conferred together and work through this.”

Key programs

Osterman said he is concerned about some provisions in the bill, such as changes to the Environmental Quality Incentive Program. However, he said, the program pushes for volunteer conservation compliance and cuts through some government red tape.

“These types of programs are extremely important because it helps reduce the bureaucracy,” Osterman said. “Believe it or not, it’s a bureaucratic program that helps reduce bureaucracy.”

Julie Anderson, director of public works and development services for the county, said local constituents are waiting for the federal government to act before receiving the benefits of the programs.

“While this is a bill of national scope, it has a very local impact and we have property owners that are lined up waiting to sign up for programs and my land conservation staff’s hands are tied,” Anderson said. “They can’t do anything until the Farm Bill is passed at the federal level, releasing some of those dollars and opening up some of those programs.”

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said farmers and agriculture businesses “are key drivers of our state’s economy, but they are facing very challenging times.”

“That is why I worked to make sure the Senate Farm Bill includes new and improved dairy risk coverage tools to provide much-needed relief for our dairy farmers,” Baldwin said in a statement. “I also worked to expand resources for our farmers, cheesemakers and dairy processors to foster innovation and reach new markets so Wisconsin’s dairy economy can continue to support rural communities across our state. The Senate passed our version of the 2018 Farm Bill with strong bipartisan support, and it’s time for the House to put politics aside to get the job done and reauthorize the Farm Bill.”

Baldwin’s midterm opponent, state Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield said she is committed to the Wisconsin agriculture community.

Jess Ward, Vukmir’s campaign manager, said Vukmir supports Trump’s “trade deal renegotiation with Canada, which helps dairy farms across Wisconsin.”

“Wisconsin farmers can always count on Leah to work with President Trump and Ag Secretary (Sonny) Perdue to deliver results,” Ward said.

An aide to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said the bill is being negotiated by a House-Senate conference committee; Johnson awaits the results of the negotiations and is reserving his comments.

“The federal money gets funneled through the state down to the county for many projects that are being done … hopefully this will get our legislators’ attention to act on it.” Robert Grove,
Racine County Board supervisor

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Ricardo Torres covers federal, state and Racine County politics along with the Village of Mount Pleasant. He bleeds Wisconsin sports teams.

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