State News: Manure Restrictions, Budget Reserves, Labeling

Long Road Ahead for Rolling Out Manure Restrictions

Efforts are ongoing among state and county officials to work with farms on new restrictions for manure spreading that took effect in eastern Wisconsin last year. They include identifying the most shallow soils over the region’s fractured bedrock.  

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources updated the Natural Resources Board this week on the agency’s progress to implement targeted performance standards across 15 counties. Farms with fewer than two feet of topsoil may not spread manure because it’s more likely to seep through the region’s Silurian bedrock and contaminate groundwater.

Kewaunee County conservationist Davina Bonness said the county has adopted the new standards under ordinance so that it doesn’t have to wait for the county’s 16 CAFOs to renew permits before putting new restrictions in place. Staff have also been probing soils on fields with farmers to determine the most sensitive areas.

“Then, as we are determining the two-foot layer, we work with those farms to let them know that these are the areas that can no longer accept manure, and these are the areas where you can still apply manure,” she said. 

Bonness estimates that around 80 to 90 percent of the county’s roughly 130 dairy farms are no longer spreading on the thinnest soils. She said land has been removed from manure application, but they’ve also discovered areas where the soil is thicker.

Wisconsin Had Largest Budget Reserves in 40 Years in 2019

Wisconsin had the highest budget reserves in 40 years this June largely due to a spike in corporate tax revenues, according to a report from the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum. However, the report says the state’s reserves are still slightly below the national average, and the current state budget will spend $800 million more than the state is projected to take in by 2021. 

Jason Stein, a researcher for Wisconsin Policy Forum, said the overall increase in the state’s tax revenues was driven largely by a spike in the amount of Wisconsin corporate tax revenues. He said the state collected more than $442 million in corporate taxes.

State lawmakers are drawing down the fund balance in the current budget to pay for increased aid to public schools and an income-tax cut, according to the report.

State Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), who co chairs the state’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, said the figures “kind of close the book on the eight years of the Scott Walker budgets and our economy.”

Republicans Pursue Truth-in-Labeling Bills

Wisconsin Republicans are pursuing changes in state law to ban labeling food as meat, milk or dairy if they don’t contain those products.

A state Senate committee held a hearing Thursday on the proposals that bill sponsors argue are needed to protect Wisconsin’s agriculture and dairy industries from what they argue is misleading food labeling. Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin has pursued similar legislation at the federal level.

One bill would ban labeling a beverage as milk unless it comes from cows, goats and certain other animals. Another would prohibit selling a product as cream, yogurt or cheese unless it includes dairy.

At a luncheon, state Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he needed to talk to the bill’s sponsors for more information, but that it “sounds like a good idea.”

“I would support the dairy industry 100 percent. If this bill would have an effect on supporting Wisconsin’s dairy industry, it would be great,” Fitzgerald said.

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