Cows graze on a Trempeauleau County farm. (Photo by Julian Emerson)
Cows graze on a Trempeauleau County farm. (Photo by Julian Emerson)

Wisconsin will award new funds made available by the federal American Rescue Plan.

Many Wisconsin farmers continue to struggle financially, even amid higher grain and milk prices, because of rising production costs and ongoing supply chain disruptions, the state’s top agriculture official said Thursday. 

Those struggles are evidenced by the fact that more than 20,000 farmers statewide applied for coronavirus relief funding in November through the Wisconsin Farm Support Program, said Randy Romanski, secretary of the state Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Department.  

That total is higher than the approximately 15,000 who applied for such assistance last year, and is a sign that more financial assistance to farmers is needed, Romanski said. 

“There is definitely a need to continue to help farmers during these challenging times,” Romanski said, noting farmers are being impacted by rising costs related to supply chain disruptions. “All of those issues are impacting farmers.”

So far nearly 20,000 farmers will receive funding through the $50 million program funded by the American Rescue Plan and announced by Gov. Tony Evers in August. Additional farmers are likely to be approved for dollars from the program too, he said. 

Farmers with total income between $10,000 and $5 million are eligible to receive program money. Those receiving funding, expected to start being disbursed Dec. 17, are expected to get $2,500 each. 

RELATED: Wisconsin’s Dairy Industry Needs More Than Band-Aid Solutions, Farmers Say

Romanski credited the increased farmer requests not only to challenges farmers face but to Evers announcing the availability of the funding well before the application due date of the end of November. The state Department of Revenue sent letters directly to eligible farmers notifying them about the program, which also likely helped, he said. 

In addition, word about the program initially made available last year may have spread, Romanski said. “There may have been people who didn’t get into the program last time who found out the app process was relatively quick and easy,” he said.

Farmers who applied for program dollars but have not received confirmation or denial should call 608-266-2772. Farmers have until 4:30 p.m. this Friday to resolve any errors in their applications.

Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden praised the funding, saying state officials did a good job raising awareness of it. In addition, reducing the minimum income requirement from $35,000 last year to $10,000 this time made more small farmers eligible, he said. 

“Funds received through the Farm Support Program will help offset some of the challenges and costs faced throughout the pandemic and rising input costs that are detrimentally affecting farmers’ cost of production,” Von Ruden said.

While farmers are grateful for the money the program provides, Von Ruden said continued subsidization of agriculture doesn’t benefit farmers long term. 

“That’s why we have been focused on addressing the monopolization and supply chain issues in the American food and agricultural industries, pushing for investment in rural infrastructure, and creating more transparent markets,” he said. “Most farmers would much rather have a fair, steady price from the market than a government handout.”

Romanski acknowledged challenges in those areas but said coronavirus relief funding is needed by farmers as the pandemic and its impacts on agriculture continue. 

“We know this amount of money isn’t going to save anybody’s farm,” Romanski said. “But it will help them pay their bills, and right now every little bit helps.”