Part II: Take Action on Task Force Water Legislation

Feb 2, 2020 | Agriculture, Citizen Advocacy, Clear Water Farms, Water Policy, Water Quality Task Force

Welcome to week two of Water Quality Task Force bills. Thanks to everyone who contacted legislators last week; there was an incredible response to our Action Alert!
This week we are focusing on three bills that help farmers steward Wisconsin’s land and waters. All three bills will have hearings this week. There are TWO action alerts related to these bills:
Let the Assembly Committee on Agriculture know you support: AB 795, AB 790 and AB 796.
Use our simple form to send a message now.
Let the Committee on Natural Resources and Energy know you support SB 715, SB 723, and SB 718.

The bills: 

Here’s a brief summary of each bill and hearing information.
We are pleased to see support to help farmers invest in water-smart agriculture. SB 715 / AB 795 has several programs to support agricultural water stewardship. This proposal includes:
  • One position at the Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) to convene a stakeholder working group to develop a state grazing plan, identify new technologies and best practices in grazing that are best suited for the state, and leverage federal funding to promote effective grazing practices and assist producers in implementing those practices.
  • A new cover crop insurance program to encourage farmers to plant cover crops (to help prevent polluted runoff). DATCP will work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide rebates in the amount of $5 per acre of a cover crop planted for crop insurance premiums paid for those acres.
  • A $250,000 increase in financial support to Producer-led/Farmer-led Councils. Also allows producer-led groups to apply for DNR Surface Water Grants.
  • A $250,000 grant program to assist farmers who achieve the Alliance for Water Stewardship certification. This certification is an essential part of River Alliance’s Clear Water Farms Program. Specifically, these bills create a grant program for DATCP to provide grants to reimburse the costs for agricultural producers to apply for a certification of water stewardship from the Alliance for Water Stewardship. The bill requires DATCP, in prioritizing these grant awards, to be guided by an agricultural producer’s overall impact to water quality. A grant may reimburse up to 50 percent of costs and may not exceed $10,000. 

SB 723 / AB 790

We are also pleased to see a proposed increase in support for County Conservation staff. They are the “boots on the ground” staff who help farmers assess their fields, connect farmers to land and water stewardship programs and much more. They build relationships with farmers and landowners to have the trust needed to implement critical land and water management programs.

One of the challenges county conservationists face is having sustained sufficient funding to have enough staff to consistently build these important relationships. (For example, if your county has funding for three staff one year, but only two staff the next, there will be connections lost between the county and the farmers. This means less land and water management practices implemented. This leaves Wisconsin’s waters at risk. Unfortunately, the state has not maintained base-level county conservation staffing support; in fact, current state-supported staffing levels are over 40% less than they were 20 years ago.   

These bills provide $2.9M for fiscal year 20-21. This amount will bring the total for this biennium to $12.4M, which is close to full funding for the state’s required contribution toward three county conservation staff. We consider this a good “down payment” to start with for the next state budget.

SB 718 / AB 796

These bills create a new pilot grant program for farmers to reduce nitrate loading, and funds research for nitrate loading reduction methods. DATCP will administer this new grant program that will provide up to $50,000 to farmers who implement projects that reduce nitrogen loading for at least two growing seasons to protect water quality. The grant program requires the farmer to collaborate with university researchers to monitor grant projects on-site and to use information gathered from grant projects to research nitrate loading reduction methods, with a goal toward making recommendations to agricultural producers on optimizing nitrogen usage while improving water quality in this state.

We are supportive of this effort to provide farmers additional support to use innovative practices to improve water quality.


Hearing Information

Assembly Hearing, Committee on Agriculture 
Tuesday, February 4, 2020, 11:01am
Senate Hearing, Committee on Natural Resources and Energy
Wednesday, February 5, 2020 10:05am

Additional Resources