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Should Wisconsin Dairy Farmers Be Subsidized For Canadian Actions?

April 6, 2017

There is no doubt that each of us can feel the plight of those Wisconsin dairy farmers who received a letter from Grassland Dairy saying the thousands of pounds of milk they once bought would no longer be purchased.  Though there had been some speculation that moves of this type might be in the offing it must have still been a most unpleasant piece of mail to receive.

While reading a news story on this matter in the Wisconsin State Journal it was noted that “there are no state or federal subsidies available to assist affected dairy farmers”.   Given how the paragraph was written I inferred that piece was information was supplied to the reporter by Wisconsin Agriculture Secretary Ben Brancel.   I have no knowledge if he has an opinion of whether such monies should be available for these farmers or not, and for the larger intent of this post it does not matter.

But it did get me to thinking.

Most of the rural farm vote in 2016 was cast for Republican candidates.  I do not write that with partisan overtones but instead as a political fact.  I understand there is a different approach to issues in rural communities.   After all, I grew up in such a place and know there is value in listening to the needs of such towns and villages.

I also strongly suspect that if a poll were conducted among the farming sector of our state it would show little interest in tax dollars going to Planned Parenthood, The National Endowment for the Arts, foreign aid, or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Yet all those listed above serve a real need in our nation.  As do the dairy farmers in our state.

I have no grand answers as to how this matter now making headlines should be handled.  But I think this is a good time to have a sober discussion about the role of government.

As a liberal who thinks a strong national government can and should work to level the field to ensure fairness, and provide assistance in times of hardship, I also want pragmatic reasoning applied at all times.  For instance, it is easy to say that taxpayers should never need to subsidize tobacco growers.  One can also make a strong argument that city dwellers in Madison should not be receiving “direct payments” that go to land  owners regardless of need, occupation or high commodity prices–yet it happens.

In the heat of an election there is always more heightened emotion than calm, reasoned pondering.  In 2016 the populist anger boiled over and common-sense was made an orphan in too many homes around our state.  Now as we listen to the news about these dairy farmers, and read the accounts of their troubles in the papers, we need to find time to think about the larger issues that always make for steamy campaigns.

The populist anger of 2016 that only wished to cut and pare down government left out the fact real people are front and center to these budgetary needs.  There is now a real-life example making headlines that can allow for a deeper appreciation for what government should be invested in.

But it cuts both ways.

As we think about the needs of dairy farmers who supply products we use each day they too need to take a moment and understand why the many reasons tax dollars are spent also have merit.  If we could have a larger dialogue across our state using the recent headlines we all might come out as better citizens. And we might have a healthier government, too.

And so it goes.

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