Expanding Rural Partners Network Creates Opportunity for Wisconsin Farmers, Indigenous Nations · The Badger Herald

The state of Wisconsin is now part of the Biden administration’s Rural Partners Network, after officials visited the Menominee Tribal Enterprises sawmill in early November.

The expansion of the program includes four other states in addition to Puerto Rico: Alaska, Nevada and North Carolina.

The most important goal of the RPN is to connect rural communities and businesses with federal aid designed to create wealth in local regions by creating jobs, developing infrastructure and improving the community as a whole. The RPN also offers farmers the opportunity to be involved in policy making and to apply for federal funding.

According to the RPN websiteled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, the network helps rural communities find resources to shape the future of their communities.

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The expansion of the RPN into Wisconsin opens the door for many farming and farming communities to improve their living conditions after the losses these communities suffered during the pandemic.

In the past two years, Wisconsin farmers have done just that struggled in many different ways. The long list of complex problems facing local farmers has included mental health crises, labor shortages, supply chain problems and backlogs in the meat processing industry. Thirty-six farms in Wisconsin archived for bankruptcy in 2021, and since the year 2000, Wisconsin has lost 68% of dairy farms.

But there is hope on the horizon as the USDA predicts that net farm income will increase $7.3 billion in 2022 over last year’s net income. Part of this recovery could be due to the pandemic easing in 2022, as operations in most industries begin to return to pre-pandemic levels of success.

With these improvements in the agricultural sector, the RPN’s intervention has the potential to sustain this upward momentum for Wisconsin farmers. The program includes support for 12 different Wisconsin provinces, including Ashland, Iron, Price, Eau Claire and others. Notably, the entire Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin would also be involved in this initiative.

The RPN could uniquely benefit Wisconsin by providing additional support to local Indigenous peoples. Wisconsin is home to 11 federally recognized native nations – as well as other non-federally recognized tribes – many of which are closely associated with the Wisconsin agricultural industry.

The RPN has already begun to foster these unique partnerships by expanding the program that provides federal grant money to the College of Menominee Nation.

This partnership certainly has the potential to help Wisconsin farmers. One of the biggest problems farmers in Wisconsin face is a lack of workers. For example, dairy farmers in Wisconsin organized a press conference in October 2022 where they encouraged the U.S. Senate to solve the agricultural labor shortage by relaxing immigration policies.

Since one of the primary functions of the RPN is to create employment, the labor shortage crisis in rural Wisconsin could easily be resolved by a united response from the federal government and the RPN.

An important question to ask at this point is why, if Wisconsin farms and communities were struggling so much, did the initial launch of the RPN neglect to get the state involved?

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The initial the launch of the program in April 2022 supported Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico and Arizona. It is likely that the reason Wisconsin was not included in this initial launch was because of the complexity of the agricultural sector.

The program was first launched in Arizona to support Indigenous communities and in the other respective states to focus exclusively on farming communities. Because Wisconsin not only has a rich indigenous background, but also a rich agricultural background, it is likely that the program was hesitant to start in Wisconsin if faced with conflicting interests between the state’s agricultural and indigenous communities.

The RPN is certainly a step in the right direction for Wisconsin’s farms, farming and Indigenous communities, but it is an entirely federal program. There are certainly areas where state and local governments can assist farmers in their future success, such as that of the RPN.

First of all, as has been done in 2020 and 2021, the state could provide grants for Wisconsin farms on the brink of collapse. An expansion of this Wisconsin Farm Support Program could help save the 36 farms that will file for bankruptcy in 2021. Likewise, the state’s Farmer Wellness Program could be expanded to provide even more mental health services to farmers, such as creating more group therapy sessions within counties across the state.

The Wisconsin state government could also ease labor requirements for farms and rural communities, allowing farms to employ more immigrants, similar to what Wisconsin’s dairy farmers did. demanded of the Senate.

While the Rural Partners Network has only recently expanded to Wisconsin, the potential benefits the program can bring to rural and Indigenous communities are enormous. Hopefully, the program can provide employment and support to these communities, which are the backbone of Wisconsin’s economy.

Emily Otten ([email protected]) is a junior journalism major.

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