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Grant money to give agriculture a boost

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ANN MARIE AMES
December 3, 2007
— A $33 million shot in the arm should make Wisconsin’s agriculture industry more competitive.

Rock County UW Extension agriculture agent Randy Thompson said spending on agriculture is a good investment.


“Agriculture here is a major part of our economy,” Thompson said. “It’s a $50 billion industry. Anything we can do to stimulate, expand or maintain our agriculture base and reinvest in agriculture is important.”


Gov. Jim Doyle on Thursday announced his “Next Generation Agriculture” plan, which includes millions in grant money to help modernize farms and businesses and support environmentally friendly practices.


“From our farms and factories to our world-class universities and cutting-edge businesses, Wisconsin is well positioned to seize opportunities to flourish in the new economy,” Doyle said in a statement.


The Next Generation plan includes:


-- $13 million to help farmers write nutrient management plans.


The crop and livestock farmers write the plans to make the most efficient use of fertilizer and fuel. The plans help farmers save money, reduce waste and protect the environment. The plans are voluntary, and farmers spend their own money as well as use grants.


“In today’s age where fertilizer prices are off the charts, if you can take advantage of strategic fertilizer use, you need to do so,” Thompson said.


-- $800,000 to boost production and resource management for dairy and beef farmers to run grazing operations. Cattle on grazing farms eat mostly grass rather than grain. That lets farmers get rid of tractors and feed-storage equipment, saving money and fuel.


“For those that want to get started, it’s a lower-cost investment,” Thompson said. “You don’t need all the brick and mortar, all the equipment.”


Grazing is considered more environmentally friendly than field cropping.


-- $1.3 million in tax credits for dairy farmers to buy new technology and equipment. Credits are available for 10 percent of modernization or expansion costs—up to $200,000 per facility.


“This helps us maintain our competitive balance with other parts of the country,” Thompson said.


-- $1 million to modernize meat processing plants through new investment and technical assistance. The credits will help plants work more efficiently and strengthen partnerships between processors and Wisconsin’s technical collages.


Demand is high for locally grown meat, but few facilities produce it, Thompson said. Infrastructure and labor costs are high for the state’s aging processing plants, he said.


-- $1.3 million to help cheese cooperatives work together to streamline businesses.


“I can’t tell you the last time we built a new cheese plant here in the state. It’s been 25 years, at least,” Thompson said. “In comparison to where California and other states have built new state-of-the-art plants, our infrastructure has remained the same. That’s not going to cut it, not if you want to keep up in a national or global market.”


-- $10 million to help whey processing plants invest in the growing international whey market. Since 2006, whey exports have increased from $13 million to $37 million.



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