Highest number of protesters on the Capital Square since the days of Vietnam? Check.
Longest continuous Assembly session ever recorded to debate a bill (61 hours)? Check.
Record number of times Wisconsin was mentioned in the national news in a one-week period, for something other than cheese or the Green Bay Packers? Check.
Today, as more than 100,000 protesters prepare to descend on the capital for the biggest rally yet this week, my inbox is filling with messages from people saying they will boycott Wisconsin cheese if our governor's "budget repair" bill passes, because it effectively strips most public workers of collective bargaining rights.
Yeah, I get the anger. I was a state employee for four years while working as a spokesperson at the Wisconsin Department of Ag, so I can relate with the unionized workers who have repeatedly negotiated away pay raises for health insurance and deferred earnings. I'm also a taxpayer and a mother who will likely see my local school's budget get slashed under this governor. So, yeah, I'm right there with you. But am I going to boycott Wisconsin cheese if this bill passes?
Hell, no. Here's why.
A boycott of Wisconsin dairy products will only serve to hurt our hard working dairy farmers, cheesemakers, milk haulers, and all of the people who serve our industry, including veterinarians, animal nutritionists and feed suppliers. Wisconsin is home to nearly one quarter of the nation's dairy farms. These are family-owned operations. In communities across the state, dairy farms and the local businesses they support provide nearly 150,000 jobs and generate $26.5 billion to help grow our economy.
Our dairy farmers and cheesemakers work just as hard, or harder, than anyone I know, and they're doing their best to put Wisconsin in the news for positive reasons. Here are three headlines issued this week that you probably didn't see, as they were overshadowed by events at the capital:
Record Milk Production: On Feb. 23, the USDA announced Wisconsin set a new milk production record in 2010. Our 1.26 million cows produced 26 billion pounds of milk - the highest number EVER recorded. Per cow production averaged 20,630 pounds, a whopping 551 pounds more than last year.
Record Cheese Contest Entries: On Feb. 24, the United States Championship Cheese Contest, held at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, announced a record-setting number of entries in its 2011 competition, with 1,602 contest entries. Cheesemakers and buttermakers from 30 states will compete in the largest dairy product competition in U.S. history. Between March 8-10, more than 25 national judges will examine, sniff and taste more than 30,000 pounds of cheese and butter, with the national champion named on March 10.
Record Reinvestments by Dairy Farmers: On Feb. 22, a financial incentive slated to expire next year was instead extended to 2017 by the Wisconsin Legislature, allowing farmers to use a tax credit to claim up to 10 percent of the costs of modernizing or expanding their operations. The credit applies only to the purchase of new buildings or equipment used to manage a dairy operation and does not include animals. The credits have created reinvestments of $500 million from farmers back into their operations.
Instead of fighting each other, let's work together to ensure more of these types of headlines. Let's grow our dairy industry by supporting Wisconsin dairy farmers, supporting Wisconsin cheesemakers, and supporting Wisconsin agriculture. And by all means, please continue to eat Wisconsin cheese, no matter the national headlines. It's good, and good for our state's economy.