With an uncertain state Senate Confirmation vote to be held in just minutes, Secretary-designee Brad Pfaff has a great deal of issues on the forefront of state government, all of which have captured the attention of Wisconsin’s Ag bankers. On Friday, State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald asked Gov. Tony Evers to withdraw the nomination of Brad Pfaff as DATCP secretary rather than face the possibility the nomination would be voted down. But an Evers spokeswoman said the governor wouldn’t withdraw Pfaff's nomination, noting a Senate committee voted 9-0 to confirm Pfaff.
At issue is uncertainty and criticism related to a livestock siting rule ATCP 51, hemp, data security, and Wisconsin leading the nation in farm bankruptcies for the second year in a row. Last week, in a move that took the pundits by surprise, Pfaff reversed a decision to take proposed changes to livestock siting rules to the DATCP Board for consideration. Still, while the ag groups wrote in a letter Friday they appreciate DATCP's willingness to work with them, they "still strongly oppose the updated draft rule, and we ask the members of the DATCP Board to reject it in its current form." WBA is among 19 groups that signed onto a letter of opposition, that includes, the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, the Wisconsin Pork Association, and WMC.
In addition to ag siting, the agency has come under fire for hemp as the rapid expansion of Wisconsin's hemp industry puts pressure on regulators. Wisconsin’s hemp industry exploded in size in the second year after the crop was made legal, with the number of licensed growers and processors expanding nearly six-fold from 335 in 2018 to almost 1,900 this year. However, this left DATCP struggling to keep up. According to a Wispolitics.com report, Brian Kuhn, director of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection's Bureau of Plant Industry, stated that in order to adhere to strict regulatory demands, the agency had to hire 10 part-time workers, reassign 15 DATCP employees, and "reallocate basically the whole lab" for hemp testing.
"I can't continue to reallocate staff from existing programs, to put their work on hold and focus on hemp as much as we have the last two years," he said. "It's not sustainable." Gov. Tony Evers and the Legislature agreed to allocated an additional $678,900 over the biennium for additional equipment, staff and IT infrastructure to meet the data reporting requirements, Kuhn said a variety of factors left DATCP reeling.
DATCAP began accepting hemp licensing applications, November 1, for the 2020 hemp season. DATCP will be submitting its Hemp Program Plan to USDA; however, it will be continuing under the 2014 Farm Bill provisions in 2020. All parties are waiting for the State Legislature to approve legislation to align Wisconsin law with the 2018 Farm Bill. Once the bill is passed, It’s estimated that DATCP could begin the new program under the 2018 Farm Bill as early as 2021
With another major hit to farmers, Wisconsin continues to top the nation in family-farm bankruptcies, according to data gathered by the American Farm Bureau Federation. From July 2018 through June 2019, Wisconsin farmers filed 45 bankruptcies under Chapter 12, a section of the U.S. bankruptcy code that provides financially troubled family farmers with a streamlined path to repay all or part of their debts.