America’s Dairyland is hurting, and a new task force plans to spend the next year figuring out how to save the industry that’s integral to Wisconsin’s economy and identity.
Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday announced creation of the group he is tasking with coming up with recommendations to save the Wisconsin dairy industry, which pumps $43.3 billion into the state’s economy every year, accounts for nearly 80,000 jobs and produces roughly 14 percent of the nation’s milk—second only to California.
But the dairy industry has been struggling with collapsed milk and other commodity prices the past three years because of an abundance of milk on the market.
Wisconsin lost 500 dairy farms in 2017 while the total number of milk-cow herds is down about 20 percent from five years ago.
The dairy industry has been shifting toward larger, corporate farms over the last 15 years, creating conflicts with smaller family operations and environmental activists because of the massive amounts of waste the large farms generate.
Announcement of the task force came on the same day that the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in favor of a massive dairy farm in central Wisconsin that was looking to expand but had been blocked over zoning concerns.
Walker, a Republican who faces re-election in November, said the state agriculture department will join forces with the UW System to create the dairy industry task force. It is designed to bring industry experts together to create solutions to help farmers, processors and related industries.
“We need to work together to develop a strategy to maintain our state’s legacy as the Dairy State,” Walker said in a statement.
Members of the task force will be appointed by Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary Sheila Harsdorf and UW System President Ray Cross.
A similar task force focused on the dairy industry was convened in 1985. It made 75 recommendations for the industry, which were then implemented to retain the state’s recognition as a dairy leader, Walker’s office said in announcing the latest effort.
The new task force will be chaired by Mark Stephenson, director of Dairy Policy Analysis at UW-Madison. Stephenson said he hopes the group will begin meeting later this summer and gather information across the state for a year before issuing its recommendations.
“People don’t think we’re coming with all the ideas and prescription for what this task force is going to end up with,” Stephenson said. “We need to listen to people and capture their ideas both about what the problems are and the potential solutions.”
Better understanding the current situation, which Stephenson described as a “relatively seismic shift in the environment of milk production,” will help those in the dairy industry navigate it and better prepare for the future, even if all the problems can’t be easily solved.
“This is not a simple or quickly treated kind of question,” he said, while noting the importance of the dairy industry both to the state’s economy and its identity.
Known as “America’s Dairyland,” a slogan that’s been on license plates since 1939, Wisconsin has been home to the World Dairy Expo for 50 years. The annual event held in Madison every fall is considered the largest dairy cattle show in North America and also the biggest dairy-focused trade show in the world.
Wisconsin honors its dairy heritage in many other ways: the dairy cow is the state’s official domestic animal, the official beverage is milk and its state quarter design features both a cow and a wheel of cheese.
“When I stop and think about the state, what is unique about this state, it probably is dairy,” Stephenson said. “There’s no other state that has as much dairy and dairy resources as Wisconsin does. I don’t think that’s a mistake.”
Students accidentally call Lisa Meyers “Mom” a lot.
But that’s kind of the point.
“It’s because they’re comfortable with me,” Meyers said.
Without hesitation, the first-grade teacher at Washington Elementary School in Whitewater said her students are her favorite part about teaching. She makes an effort to hug and high-five her students every day.
Teachers can’t make an impact unless they make connections, Meyers said.
Tuesday was the students’ last day before summer, and it was Meyers’ last day teaching. She is retiring to spend more time with her new baby granddaughter and more time at her church, St. Mary’s in Milton.
Meyers has been teaching for 33 years, the last nine of which have been at Washington. Before that, she spent 22 at Lakeview Elementary School, also in Whitewater.
Speaking by phone Monday, she said she was excited and exhausted.
Monday was a “long day,” she said. To celebrate the end of the school year, all the students got to go outside, play games and splash down a slip-and-slide.
Meyers also said she is sad to be done but added it’s nice to know retirement doesn’t mean she won’t walk through Washington’s halls again.
She will get to come back for volunteer opportunities at Washington, whether to help with vision and hearing tests or to supervise such events as Monday’s field day.
But she will be giving up her Monsters Inc.-themed room, No. 101. The “Meet The Monstars” sign above the photos of her students can be traced to a student about seven years ago saying Meyers’ favorite colors—green and blue—reminded them of Sulley and Mike, the Pixar movie’s main characters, Meyers recalled.
She will also be giving up the songs her kids sing. Meyers made an effort to sing a lot, she said. Her class’s favorite song this year was “Do Wah Diddy Diddy.”
Her classroom was quiet Friday with students focused on books. But when it came time to switch stations, the music began: “I like to move it, move it.”
Meyers’ students sometimes make up their own songs, she said. One time, a girl sang to her about the baby at the girl’s house who bit her on the arm. The song she made up “fit perfectly” with the tune the class sings for their weather chart, Meyers said.
“Little kids have no fear of singing—and I love that,” Meyers said in an email after an interview. “I will miss hearing all their beautiful little voices.”
The songs can be an alternative way for students to engage with material.
“Her love of music filled the classroom with energy and enhanced an incredible learning environment,” Principal Tom Grosinske said in an email.
Another way to get students to buy in, but in the context of closing achievement gaps, is to have high expectations, Meyers said. Washington was recognized last year for its work in the area—it was a 2017 National Blue Ribbon School.
She also said she engages with students’ families so that a student learning English can get help from parents or siblings at home.
Meyers’ advice to young teachers is to make connections to kids and listen to them.
“We spend so much time in our classroom trying to teach our students how to listen, but when we really listen carefully to our students and hear what they are trying to say, even if they don’t always have the right words,” Meyers said in an email, “we learn so much about who they are and what they need to feel safe and successful.”
If she had to live her teaching career over again, Meyers said she would do it “the exact same way.”
“Lisa has left an influential legacy here at Washington,” Grosinske said. “Lisa truly made a difference for children.”
A Rock County Board member wants a Nov. 6 advisory referendum to ask county voters if Wisconsin should legalize marijuana, a move that comes as neighboring states face similar deregulation measures this year.
Yuri Rashkin, who was elected to the Rock County Board in April, said he wants to know where voters stand on legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana for adult use in Wisconsin.
To be put on the November ballot, the referendum would need to be approved by the Rock County Board and its committees by Aug. 28. Rashkin said he will flesh out referendum language with the county’s corporation council and introduce the resolution “in the next little while.”
“There are steps that have to be taken to get from completely illegal to recreational,” Rashkin said. “I don’t know on which step we’re going to stop or how far we’re going to go. But I feel that a referendum is a very important and crucial step in that process.”
Rashkin’s proposal comes on the heels of decisions Tuesday in the Illinois and Michigan legislatures that made strides in deregulating marijuana.
In Michigan, lawmakers sent its legalization measure to the November ballot, and the Illinois Legislature passed a bill that will allow medical marijuana to replace prescription painkillers.
Wisconsin could be at a “competitive disadvantage” if neighboring states continue to deregulate marijuana, Rashkin said. According to the Wisconsin Justice Initiative, a progressive advocacy group from Milwaukee, Wisconsin could rake in $138 million a year in tax revenue from legalized cannabis.
Rashkin said if a November referendum identified majority support for legalizing marijuana, it would urge Wisconsin legislators to vote on a state-wide deregulation bill.
“This gives us support, motivation, even some pressure (if it passes),” Rashkin said.
On May 24, the Milwaukee County Board approved 15-1 adding a similar referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Milwaukee County referendum will ask: “Do you favor adults 21 years of age and older to engage in the personal use of marijuana, while also regulating commercial marijuana-related activities, and imposing a tax on the sale of marijuana?”
Rashkin said Rock County’s resolution may include a similar one-question referendum. But the Wisconsin Justice Initiative suggested the county split the question into three parts, asking separately if marijuana should be legal for adult use, for medical purposes only or remain as a criminally illegal drug.
While it’s too early to track Rock County Board members’ support for the resolution, board member Wes Davis said he believes farmers might get behind the measure and could see it as a way to diversify their crop production.
“At the very minimum, it brings the issue to be discussed,” Davis said about a referendum. “And of course we can’t count that everyone would be interested. And I think it would really belong in the Legislature as an issue that would have to be decided on.”
Adding the referendum to the Nov. 6 ballot would likely not add expense for the county, County Clerk Lisa Tollefson said. But it might require the county to pay for “explanation publishing,” which Tollefson said the county is required to do for referendums.
Rashkin, who runs the Janesville Community Page on Facebook, said his social media commenters have frequently shown widespread support for legalizing marijuana. He added that he believes supporting marijuana legalization is no longer a fringe point of view.
“I feel like it’s very much in the mainstream,” he said. “This is an opportunity for the public to let elected officials know where they stand.”
Local • 3A, 7A, 10A
Meth manufacturer sentenced
A man convicted of making and using methamphetamine at a rural residence in 2017 cried remorsefully but was sentenced to 7½ years in prison Tuesday in Rock County Court. Keith J. Rose, 38, of Janesville told Judge John Wood that he takes full responsibility for all the charges, but it was not enough to persuade Wood to lower the prison sentence from what prosecutors requested.
State • 2A
Eminent domain plans laid
A village board in southeast Wisconsin has deemed thousands of acres of farmland and a few dozen homes to be blighted, allowing it to seize the property for a Foxconn manufacturing complex. Under state law, a property can be deemed blighted if it’s predominantly open or impedes the growth of the community. A dozen property owners filed a federal lawsuit in January, arguing the village’s use of eminent domain is unconstitutional because it’s for private rather than public benefit.
Sports • 1B-5B
Brewers can’t solve Kluber
Cleveland ace Corey Kluber scattered seven hits in seven strong innings as the Indians beat the Milwaukee Brewers 3-2 on Tuesday night. Junior Guerra (3-4) allowed three runs in six innings for the Brewers, who have lost two straight for the first time since April 26-29 when they lost four in a row to the Chicago Cubs.