Subscribe for 33¢ / day

Chris Rickert is the urban affairs reporter and SOS columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal.

Lady with ice cream cone

Karen Kelley of family-owned Kelley Country Creamery in Fond du Lac serves up an ice-cream treat made with milk from the Kelleys' 65-cow Holstein herd.

Eating ice cream makes me feel like the Goodyear blimp has touched down in my gut, but I’d be willing to up my consumption of milkshakes if it would boost a state dairy industry hammered by the global oversupply of milk.

In a similar vein, dairy’s shaky prospects are causing the state’s ruling Republicans to submit to a fair amount of ideological discomfort.

Domestic milk production is outstripping domestic demand, meaning export markets are increasingly important to U.S. dairy producers, according to UW-Madison professor of agricultural and applied economics Brian Gould.

So now that Canada has effectively cut purchases of ultra-filtered Wisconsin milk, the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection wants the federal government to create demand for dairy by buying stored cheese and butter for its nutritional aid programs, such as food banks and the school lunch program. Republican Gov. Scott Walker has also appealed to President Donald Trump for help.

Those are curious moves for a government controlled by free-market Republicans, and ironic for a DATCP that has revived enforcement of a state law restricting the sale of Irish- and Ohio-made butter in the state. Canada’s actions shouldn’t be allowed to hurt Wisconsin’s dairy farmers, apparently, but Wisconsin’s should be allowed to hurt out-of-state buttermakers.

Also this month, a group of state Assembly Republicans including Speaker Robin Vos and budget committee co-chairman John Nygren sent a letter to UW System President Ray Cross urging the System to research more uses for milk.

Looking to the eggheads for advice on climate change or water levels in the Central Sands region hasn’t been a priority for Republicans, although it appears the System is expected to play a key role in the dairy economy. How $350 million in Republican cuts to the System’s budget and weakening tenure aids in that mission, I’m not sure.

UW-Madison Center for Dairy Research director John Lucey didn’t want to comment on System-Legislature politics, but luckily he said 95 percent of of CDR’s funding comes from farmers and program revenue, and that “we can always do more.”

“This campus is unmatched in terms of knowledge and technology related to all things dairy,” he said.

The biggest irony is today’s Wisconsin GOP claims to be the party of workforce development and personal responsibility — not of dependence on government.

If there is too much milk, shouldn’t the party be urging some state dairy farmers to sell their herds for slaughter and go back to tech college to become computer programmers or welders or some other kind of worker Wisconsin employers are always claiming they can’t find enough of?

If not, perhaps Walker’s plan to drug-test welfare recipients should apply as well to dairy farmers whose products are purchased by feds — which is also a form of government assistance.

Dangle a bit of Wisconsin ice cream and cheese in front of Republican lawmakers, and their conservative beliefs get dumped like the 43 million excess gallons of American milk the feds say were dumped in the first eight months of 2016.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or crickert@madison.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ).

10
1
1
0
5