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Proposed state fee hikes on dairy industry hit farmers hard

Wisconsin's dairy industry says it doesn't appreciate being hit with new state fees at a time when farmers' incomes are dropping.

The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee recently added the fees to the proposed state budget.

They would increase the application fee for a water pollution discharge permit from $250 to $1,200.

Farm operations with those permits would get a $345 annual fee and the Department of Natural Resources would get the authority to add another annual fee based on the number of animals at facilities with water permits.

Al Ott of R-Forest Junction, a member of the Assembly Ag Committee, says the fees will cost farmers at least $120,000 a year. And he says it would all go to the state's general fund and do nothing to improve water quality or the permit process.

The finance panel endorsed a host of tax and fee hikes to help cover a $6.6 billion budget deficit.

But Ott says it's like piling on to farmers who've suffered big declines in the prices they get for their milk. And he wonders if the panel has any regard for agriculture's contributions.

Jerry Meissner, head of the Dairy Business Association, plans to urge the full Legislature to remove the fee hikes when it takes up the budget next month.