New farming bills introduced in Madison amid increasing farm challenges
The 'Our Farms, Our Future' bill package was introduced to the state legislature Tuesday, featuring bills that would address farm succession planning and create a student loan assistance program and a small farm diversity grant program.
The farm succession bill would add two positions to support and advance the UW-Madison Division of the Extension's farm succession planning programs.
"What it aims to do is help start the conversation as for when farmers gear up to retire, that making sure they have a plan set up to either pass it on to family or make sure that all their estates are in order," bill author Patrick Testin (R-District 24) said.
The bills come while Wisconsin farmers continue to battle falling commodity prices, rising rates of depression and the trade war. According to Wisconsin Farm Center statistics from 2018, 29% of the state's farmers suffer from depression and 35% from anxiety. Calls for help to the Wisconsin Farm Center help line have increased by 3.5% in the first six months of 2019, but have taken a dip in the past month due to the farming busy season, WFC's director Angie Sullivan said.
"The increase in farmer suicide has been on a lot of people’s minds recently, and it’s absolutely tragic that given the circumstances that they’re in, where it’s more and more difficult to do the day to day to keep their operations up and running, and then the added pressure of not knowing who’s going to take care of the farm after they go," Testin said.
"We want to be able to have the resources available for farmers to have the farm talk, to have that conversation as far as what are the next steps when that farmer decides to put up his boots and pass it on to the next generation."
He hopes the bills will be scheduled for the fall session.