State News

Evers looks to expand UW-Extension as part of agricultural plan

As part of the proposal, the Governor hopes to add $2.5 million in funding and 20 agents to help with outreach to farmers statewide. 

As part of the proposal, the Governor hopes to add $2.5 million in funding and 20 agents to help with outreach to farmers statewide. 

Image By: Katie Scheidt

After announcing plans to help the agricultural economy, Gov. Tony Evers proposed expanding the UW-Madison Division of Extension with more agents to expand its reach across the state.

The UW-Extension provides agricultural agents and educators at the county level to implement university research into farming communities. 

Evers reiterated his goals to distribute $2.5 million in funding and add 20 agents to UW-Extension, which would “ensure farmers and agricultural industries have partners and support closer to home.”

Extension programs experienced unexpected budget cuts during former Gov. Scott Walker’s administration, which reduced funding for research programs designed to help farmers and subsequently created staffing difficulties. 

Currently, there are 62 agents across the state, with 10 counties — mostly in northern Wisconsin — lacking their own agent. 

Tina Kohlman is UW-Extension’s Dairy and Livestock Agent for Fond du Lac County. She implements research into her outreach, which includes presentations about farm management and milk production. Kohlman explained how her role highlights the collaboration between UW-Madison and farming communities. 

“Extension educators serve as a conduit from the university to the people of Wisconsin, and identify needs back to specialists on campus which helps them determine research needs,” Kohlman said. “Not only does Extension have local, county-based educators, but Extension also has professors, or specialists, on campus.” 

Richard Holopka, an Agriculture Extension Educator based in Clark County, said counties have had to share agents to maximize availability to farmers. 

Holopka, who mostly leads education programs like trainings and peer groups, had to help answer crop questions in Marathon County until a vacancy was filled. He said the vacancies are apparent. 

“There are some voids in our system right now, both at Madison and in the counties,” Holopka said.

Recently, Holopka worked in corn fungicide research and the Extension helped local farmers to set up plots and collect yield data to analyze fungicide benefits. Holopka emphasized the importance of unbiased, scientific data in agricultural communities that happens with the UW-Extension. 

“By having this network where we work with the specialists at the campuses, they may have connections to grant money or funding that we’re not aware of, and that can get some of these programs going,” Holopka stated. “We can come in and find farms … to help develop some research and gather data.” 

UW-Extension’s research is especially relevant as the Wisconsin agricultural industry increasingly faces challenges. 

This year, Evers emphasized the struggle for dairy farmers specifically during his State of the State address. Wisconsin leads the nation in farm bankruptcies, as small farmers have been impacted by changing economic conditions and low prices for exports. 

Kohlman said the dairy community in particular is facing challenges related to profitability while maintaining productivity, animal well-being and environmental stewardship.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have also expressed support for giving more resources to the UW-Extension. Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, said adding more agents would be vital for farmers.

“More boots on the ground is a good thing and they’re invaluable resources for farmers,” Novak said. 

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