"We need more milk. Washington State and Texas are ahead of Wisconsin in dairy exports - California is number-one. We're number four. We can and should increase those exports from Wisconsin."
So said Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch as she talked about state programs intended to help farmers increase their milk output and boost the state's dairy industry. She spoke at a recent gathering of dairy farmers in Roxbury.
"When you put that cow on your (state) quarter," she said, "you have people gunning for your record."
Wisconsin dairy farms produce only about 90 percent of the milk volume that's needed by state dairy processors and the programs aim to ensure long-term viability of both farmers and processors, which is also good for the state economy.
The "Grow Wisconsin Dairy 30 X 20" program aims to get Wisconsin farmers producing 30 billion pounds of milk per year by 2020.
"Last year with the worst drought in 50 years, Wisconsin dairy farmers increased production by 4 1/2 percent, so we can probably hit that (30 billion pound) mark before 2020," she told the dairy farmer audience.
The state program was formerly part of the Commerce Department, which was recently changed to the state-private entity called the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.
When Commerce was transformed, the regulatory functions housed there had to be moved out. At that same time the former Dairy 2020 program was moved out of the agency as well, Kleefisch explained. It was renamed the Grow Wisconsin Dairy 30 X 20 program and was moved to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP.)
The reconstituted program involves $200,000 for grants to farmers who want to improve their business practices, improve production, add cows or improve other practices on their farms.
The recently approved state budget also includes a $200,000 grant program for processors who want to improve their output or their businesses. Kleefisch noted that Wisconsin is still number-one in cheese production.
"Eighty-five percent of Wisconsin's milk is used for cheese. We have 1,200 licensed cheesemakers and 600 varieties of cheese produced in the state. There are 140 different dairy processing plants in the state. Dairy 30X20 is really important to us.
"We want to nurture and grow your industry."
Grants in the program, Kleefisch said, can be used to hire consultants to improve business practices, herd management or profitability. The program also aims to help more young farmers enter the business.
"We need to make sure we continue to infuse this industry with new and excited farmers," she said. "We need to continue to entice young people into the business."
Because the programs - both for producers and for processors - are designed as a partial grant, it makes sure that the grant recipients "have skin in the game," she said.
Business planning grants for producers of up to $5,000 are possible through the 20 percent grant program.
The program also has dairy profit teams that include individuals with special skills and backgrounds that "come in almost like a SWAT team" to help dairy farmers assess their operations and look for ways to produce more milk profitably.
Kleefisch said the dairy processor grant program is just getting started and DATCP Secretary Ben Brancel is meeting with stakeholders to get this "ambitious" and "exciting" program started.
For more on the Grow Wisconsin Dairy 30X20 programs, visit the website: www.datcp.wi.gov/farms/dairy_farming/.