TOWN OF BARRE -- In the latest push to increase Wisconsin’s milk output to 30 billion pounds by 2020, Gov. Scott Walker announced Thursday the third round of Grow Wisconsin Dairy 30x20 grants.
Forty three Wisconsin farmers -- including six in the Coulee Region -- received grants of up to $5,000 for improvements to make their farms more productive and profitable. Walker announced the 30x20 initiative in March of 2012 and awarded 85 grants in its first two years.
“Farming is not just a business; it’s a way of life here in Wisconsin,” Walker said.
Flanked by a row of dairy cows and dressed in a blue barn coat and brown work boots, Walker touted the importance of Wisconsin’s dairy industry, which boasts more than 10,800 farms and about 1.27 million cows.
The state produced 27.6 billion pounds of milk in 2013, up 5 percent from 26.1 billion pounds in 2011. Wisconsin has lagged behind California in milk production since 1993 but is still the nation’s top cheese producer, with 134 cheese plants making 2.8 billion pounds of cheese annually. Up to 90 percent of the milk used to make Wisconsin cheese comes from in-state producers. The rest is imported, Walker noted.
“We have even greater demand than we can keep up with,” he said.
Walker made his announcement at Lane Creek Farm in the town of Barre, where Jeff and Jo Berg tend a herd of about 60 cows.
Jeff Berg was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1989. As his condition progressed, farming became more difficult, but he received assistance from UW-Extension’s AgriAbility program and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation in 2007 and 2011 and a 30x20 grant in 2012.
"It started to get tough, and my kids are starting to get older," Berg said. "It got to the point where we were either going to have to sell the cows or figure something else out."
The Bergs added a robotic milking system -- the first of its kind in La Crosse County -- as well as a number of other construction projects to improve access to farm equipment and buildings. The labor-saving modifications have also increased milk output 2,500 pounds to 5,000 pounds per day, Jo Berg said.
Walker declared 2014 the year of “a better bottom line” to encourage the employment of people with disabilities, and cited the Bergs' success as an example of how the farming industry can adapt so farmers with medical issues can continue their work.
They’re able to do that, Walker said, “with a little help from their friends at the state government.”
“Farming is not just a business; it’s a way of life here in Wisconsin."
Gov. Scott Walker