Wisconsin News

Secretary of Agriculture visits Westby

Announces plans to help dairy industry

Secretary of Agriculture visits Westby

WESTBY, Wis. (WKBT) - Wisconsin is home to nearly 70,000 farms across 14.5 million acres.

The federal government announced Tuesday new plans aimed to further help the agricultural industry.

United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was at the Westby Cooperative Creamery Tuesday to discuss ways to improve the dairy industry.

Some of those plans include raising the price of dairy products, as well as highlighting the benefits of a new national trade agreement.

Those plans could have an impact on your dinner table.

When it comes to cheese, the federal government says there's a national problem.

"It's fairly clear we have a lot of supply and not as much demand," Secretary Vilsack said.

It's why Secretary Vilsack announced Tuesday that the Department of Agriculture is willing to purchase $20 million of cheddar cheese in an effort to decrease excess supply.

"We think that's one small way of providing some assistance to reduce, over a period of time, inventory levels," Secretary Vilsack said.

Officials at Westby Cooperative Creamery say the announcement won't impact their business directly, but say area farmers could see a difference, which could also affect the cost at the grocery store.

"It all affects milk supply," board president Loren Oldenburg said. "Excess milk (is) going out there on the open market, anywhere from a $1-$5 under our cost, so that effect all goes back to the farmer -- lower milk prices. If he can take the product off the market, which would drive demand, help cut supply down."

Secretary Vilsack also touched on the agricultural benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, trade deal, a hotly contested topic in the presidential campaign.

A new report from the USDA says that the trade deal could create an additional $150-$300 million in U.S. dairy exports.

With the uncertainty in the presidential election, as well as the future of TPP, Secretary Vilsack warns that the dairy industry could suffer if it doesn't pass.

"The reality is that if this does not pass, then individual countries that are involved in TPP will begin negotiating bilaterally, and those bilateral agreements most often will not include the United States," Secretary Vilsack said.

Farmers in Wisconsin say that trade deal is essential in creating a healthy farming industry.

"We have to create other markets. Locally and worldly," Oldenburg said.

Secretary Vilsack says that the cheese purchased by the USDA will help assist food banks and other food assistance programs.

Secretary Vilsack also spent part of his day campaigning for Hillary Clinton with Representative Ron Kind in La Crosse.

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