Among increasing efforts to support Wisconsin farmers, three proposals sponsored by Democrats are aimed to slow the wave of farm bankruptcies.
One proposal by Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) would forgive up to $30,000 in student loans.
The program would be for college graduates, who commit to farming in Wisconsin for at least five years.
The awards would be given based on financial need, the likelihood of success and the use of sustainable best practices. Only $120,000 would be available the first year of the program, increasing to $600,000 annually in five years.
Spreitzer said the program will help recruit young farmers.
“I’m seeing that there is a next generation interested,” Spreitzer said, “but they are wondering if they are going to get access to land, are they going to be able to pay off their student debt, so we are trying to eliminate those barriers.”
Two other bills are for a competitive grant program for small farming operations.
It would award up to $50,000 for small-scale farming operations no larger than 50 acres. The money would have to be used to start a new operation or add a new product. Over two years, $500,000 would be available.
The last would fund two positions within the UW-System to help farmers create a transition plan for the operation.
Darin Von Ruden is a third-generation dairy farmer from Westby and president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union. He said the financial landscape has made many lose interest in agriculture.
“We can hope that giving grants or low-interest loans will keep farm kids on the farm rather than looking at selling to a neighboring farm or corporation,” Von Ruden said. “There are quite a few different options out there. It just depends on the willingness of our elected officials to do the different mechanisms to keep farmers farming.”
Spreitzer said the transition may be from a retiring farmer to someone outside the family who has limited access to land.
“That’s why we are trying to make that connection so that farmers who are ready to sell their land can sell it to somebody ideally who is going to make it a family farm of their own,” Spreitzer said.
Spreitzer said the proposals have bipartisan support.