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Farm Aid to bring attention to dairy industry crisis in Wisconsin

JANESVILLE (WKOW) — Leaders in Wisconsin dairy hope national attention to the industry challenges will help farmers who are struggling right now.

In September, Farm Aid 2019 will take over Alpine Valley in East Troy. The festival and concert series aims to support dairy farmers who are in crisis in ‘America’s Dairyland’.

The past five years have been devastating on the industry. Farm Aid organizers say the industry that generates $43.4 billion each year lost nearly 700 dairy farms just in 2018, urging them to choose Wisconsin as the beneficiary of its music movement.

State  officials say they’re working hard to try to expand markets to keep family farms running.

“We’re in transition in this state, we’re continuing to invest, our family farmers are continuing to invest. But there are some that are leaving the farm, too many are exiting the farm,” said Brad Pfaff, secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection (DATCP).

Pfaff was chair of the Dairy Task Force 2.0, made up of stakeholders in the industry to try to overcome issues like low milk prices. That group came up with more than 50 recommendations for the state to take action.

“We looked at everything from the end of milking the cows, all the way to the consumer and the end user, a number of the recommendations that came forward focused on what we can do in order to make sure that consumers continue to eat and drink milk and dairy products,” he said.

On Tuesday, DATCP leaders and state lawmakers toured several farms in Rock County, including the Rebout family’s farm in Janesville, where they milk 160 cows and run corn and beef operations.

“We’re used to those ups and downs. Right now, we’ve had a few more of those down down times than what we would prefer, so we are riding the storm, we are getting through it. But we also were out there, we’re trying to pay our bills,” Doug Rebout told 27 News.

Rebout has leaned on those other operations as the dairy industry struggled, while also cutting costs of equipment and keeping staff to just family. But he says as farmers cut back, that trickles down to other industries like manufacturing or general community businesses.

“We’re trying to do everything the right way, because this is our livelihood. This is our life. This is where we’re raising our families, so we just want to get across to them that we’re all here. We’re working hard to be fuel the world, but we’re doing it the right way,” he said.

Pfaff hopes the national attention of a Farm Aid festival will remind consumers to support local farms and agriculture in Wisconsin.

“It is part of our social fabric and our cultural makeup as a state. And Farm Aid will help remind all of us of that,” he told 27 News.

Farm Aid 2019 is set for September 21. Tickets go on sale on Friday. Last time Farm Aid was in Wisconsin was in 2010.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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