Wisconsin bill would offer veterans careers in agriculture

The proposal has bipartisan support

A bipartisan proposal in the Wisconsin Legislature seeks to connect military veterans with careers in agriculture.

The Wisconsin Veterans Farm Bill of 2017 calls for the establishment of a Veteran Farmer Assistance and Outreach Program.

If passed, the legislative proposal would require Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to create the program in consultation with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Military Affairs, UW-Extension, and the federal Department of Agriculture.

The bill’s text says the mission of the program is designed to  “integrate veterans into the field of agriculture and support veterans currently working in agriculture.”

State Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) and state Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) have co-authored the proposal, and it’s since been referred to the appropriate Senate and Assembly committees.

Testin believes the demand for jobs in farming will only increase in the coming years.

"We have 69,000 farms in Wisconsin, but yet the average age of our farmers is over 55 years old," Testin said.

“Because of the strenuous work that agriculture demands, it’s a 24-7 job," Testin also said. "I can’t think of a better suited group of individuals than the men and women who served in our armed forces to work in agriculture."

Testin and Goyke are hopeful the bill will pass this session.

Goyke said the strong bipartisan support the bill has generated shows it’s a “win-win” for both farmers and veterans.

Speaking at Growing Power at 55th Street and Silver Spring Drive, Goyke said people don’t need to live in rural areas to make agriculture a career.

“The bill doesn’t require the farmer to own 1,000 acres in rural Wisconsin,” Goyke said. “This can take place right here on Silver Spring Drive.”

As proposed, the bill should not cost the state any additional money.

Public hearings on the bill and votes in the Senate and Assembly are expected in the coming months.

If the proposal passes, it would head to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature. Goyke and Testin are optimistic the program would be up and running by early 2018, and could be expanded in the future.

The DVA and DATCP would be tasked with tracking how many veterans enter the agriculture industry.

"It's my intention to come back to the Legislature next year, show how great this is working, and ask for some more money to ramp it up," Goyke said. 

The proposal also calls for the DVA and DATCP to develop a logo to identify agricultural products produced by DVA certified veteran farmers.

The proposals contained in the bill would also extend to the immediate family members of veterans who died in the service, are missing in action, or who died as a result of a service related disability.

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