June 29. 2012 10:30AM - Last modified: June 29. 2012 10:32AM

Milk does an economy good

By Frank Lasee

  
June is Dairy month in Wisconsin, a time where we thank our dairy farmers for all of their hard work. You can do this by drinking milk, eating cheese and yogurt, it does a body good.

Farming is one of the biggest players in Wisconsin's economy, especially dairy farming. Farming related fields (farming related equipment manufacturing and food processing for instance) account for one of ten jobs in our state. The total economic impact of the Wisconsin's dairy industry is 26.5 billion dollars, making up a tenth of our economy, making the dairy industry a bigger part of Wisconsin's economy than oranges are to Florida and potatoes are to Idaho.

Did you say "Holy cow,"? Or did you think that was cheesy?

Wisconsin is a world leader in cheese production. In fact, if Wisconsin was its own country, we would be the 4th largest producer of cheese in the world. Each dairy cow in Wisconsin generates more than $20,000 dollars a year in economic activity.

I guess you could say Wisconsin is "milking" the dairy industry for all it's worth.

With so much of our economy based on dairy, I think we should help farmers grow their herds and help our economy as a whole. Streamlining our regulations on food processors will help with all that milk that has to be processed.

As you know, there are two sides to economics, supply and demand. While there is always room to improve our regulations, we are pretty good about leaving farmers alone to give us a supply, not so good at letting them expand easily; we can improve how we regulate businesses that use products produced on farms to increase our demand for milk production.

We can do this by using common sense when it comes to regulating food processing plants, giving food manufacturers a reason to expand their plants and put more people to work while rewarding farmers by expanded market opportunity at the same time.

Earlier this year I sponsored a law that is doing just that, by changing the way we regulate food processing plants that work with already processed dairy products.

Before this common sense change was made, food processors like Riverside Foods in Two Rivers Wisconsin working with cheese that has already been pasteurized were regulated as if they were working with raw milk products (which has more stringent regulations), which they were not. As a result, Riverside Foods and other food processors around the state were required to purchase more expensive machinery to comply with the law even though the regulations didn't make sense.

It's these types of regulations that make companies move on to greener pastures, and when that happens it has a ripple effect through the whole economy. When a food processing plant closes or shrinks, people are laid off, the plant no longer uses milk, so the price of milk drops because there is more supply than demand. Farmers then need fewer cows (remember, each one generates $20,000 in economic activity) and everyone loses. That's not what we want. We want as many industries as possible to remain strong and growing in our state as possible.

State Sen. Frank Lasee (R-Green Bay) represents Wisconsin's 1st Senate District.

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