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Farm Bureau leaders attend county meeting

Sept. 12, 2013 | 0 comments

Dane County Farm Bureau members had the chance to hear from their state organization's new chief administrative officer, Steve Freese, and their new state president, Jim Holte, during the county's annual meeting in Waunakee Sept. 5.

Freese recently took over as the organization's chief administrative officer upon the retirement of Roger Cliff.

Freese. a 16-year veteran of the Wisconsin Legislature represented a mostly rural area covering 300 square miles of southwest Wisconsin, and said he feels at home representing the members of Farm Bureau. He was chosen from 55 applicants to fill the top administrative job.

Farm Bureau members heard that he was the first legislative candidate ever to be endorsed by the Volunteers for Agriculture - the political action arm of Wisconsin Farm Bureau.

The only close election he ever had in his political career was the one he lost. When that happened, he says, "I ran away and joined the circus."

He wasn't kidding. Freese, who had previously consulted on historic preservation projects, was tapped to become the head of Wisconsin's Circus World Museum in Baraboo.

When he got there the historic site was $1.2 million in debt and attendance had been dropping by 15 percent for several years.

He is proud that at the point he left for the Farm Bureau job that all the debts at Circus World have been paid and attendance is up 37 percent.

Farm Bureau doesn't need that kind of rehabilitation however, he assured members. "The Farm Bureau state office has been managed very well. You have had great stewards of your organization."

Jim Holte took over as president of the organization last year after president Bill Bruins announced he would retire from that position.

Holte had first been elected to the Farm Bureau board in 1995, worked with the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium and was the first chair of the state's Livestock Siting Review Board.

A 1975 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Holte said he feels it's an opportunity and a privilege to run the Elk Mound farm his great-grandparents started when they came from Norway.

Holte told the county's members that he views Farm Bureau the same way - it has a firm foundation on which to build.

The Dane County Farm Bureau meeting was to have heard from Gov. Scott Walker, but he was unable to attend.

Members recognized and thanked long-time county leader Jack Meffert, who announced he would retire after 33 years serving the organization. He was given the county's "Friend of Agriculture" award.

Deputy Secretary at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Jeff Lyon - a former staff member at Wisconsin Farm Bureau - told the members that despite budget cuts Secretary Ben Brancel has put his staff to work on achieving the "core missions" of the agency and developing ways to make customer service a top priority.

During the most recent budgetary cycle, the Agricultural Resource Management division made every effort to assure that funding collected for the cleanup of agricultural chemical spills was actually used for that purpose, he said.

In previous budget cycles legislators had seen the buildup of cash in the fund and decided to use it for other purposes.

The current budget, said Lyon, included $7 million in bonding authority for cost-sharing of on-farm conservation practices as well as one-time funding of $1.8 million for Land Conservation Department staffing grants.

The agency has also assured funding for Clean Sweep grants of $750,000. That program helps municipalities and counties find safe ways to dispose of farm and household chemical products.


When he worked for Farm Bureau, Lyon lobbied lawmakers on the Working Lands Initiative - the state's newest version of farmland preservation. Now, as deputy administrator at DATCP he is helping write the rules for the programs.

The agency is at work on the rule package that will bring together farmers with the Department of Natural Resources rule NR 151. "We need a workable rule that all will be able to work under," he said.

The agency also has the Dairy 30x20 programs that offer grants to dairy farmers for transition planning, business management and improvements that will allow them to produce more milk or expand their business.

In coming years the state will also offer grants for dairy processors to do similar projects.

The goal of the program is to get state producers marketing 30 billion pounds of milk by the year 2020.

The state budget gave the agency $200,000 for the "Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin" program.

The same division of the department that is working to build local Wisconsin markets, also houses the International Trade Team, which builds contacts for state businesses all over the world, Lyon said.

Starting with the 2008 farm bill, federal agencies were supposed to make it possible for state-inspected meat plants to ship their meat products across state lines.

Lyon said DATCP has been working with federal agencies and there is finally one state-inspected meat processor who is part of the program.

There are five or six more, however, that are in the process of joining the program, he added.

In the Animal Health division, Lyon said new state veterinarian Dr. Paul McGraw's aim is to quietly go around the state protecting animal and human health.

They were pleased when the state provided taxpayer money to continue the premises registration program through the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium.

Lyon said farmers need to be aware that there may be some legislation drafted pertaining to the "implements of husbandry" recommendations that have just gone out to a series of six well-attended town hall meetings.

"Talk to your legislators about how this will affect you," he said.

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