In an interview with The Wheeler Report, DATCP Secretary Ben Brancel talked about international trade, Wisconsin Clean Sweep Program, and robocalls.
What are the major accomplishments of your agency?
International activities are showing success for 2012. We had $2.9 billion in agricultural commodities that left Wisconsin for other areas of the world. The most ever. The dairy industry made it through the drought and able to prosper. We monitor and address issues as they come along and we’ve not had major animal health issues in the state. In the last year we met with groups that were impacted by rules and regulations to make sure they understood how to be in compliance and stay in compliance. We had extensive meetings with organizations and business development; working with them early to help establish good protocols. They have their business plan and we review those plans and help them make sure they don’t fall out of compliance. We’re being proactive and those meetings have been good for everyone. We’re also always working to recapture money for our citizens who have lost money through scams.
What are some of the difficulties your agency faces?
Our biggest frustrations are consumer protections. There is so much fraud brought to our citizens from outside the state borders. They require multi-state actions. We work with DOJ to resolve those issues. More and more scams are coming from outside the country; Africa, Europe and all over the Middle East through the internet. The best we can do is educate the public to be aware of the situations and to avoid being scammed. It’s frustrating; every time we learn how something is working and we educate the public, they come up with a new way to take people’s money.
The overall economy is challenging. It impacts each business differently. The drought impacted each farm differently. The ability to have a limited number of solutions is not an option anymore. Everyone needs a different solution and we have to work on an individual basis to come up with those solutions.
Robo calls are the #1 complaint among Wisconsin citizens. What actions is DATCP taking in this area?
We take every complaint and catalog it. If the calls are in violation of the no-call list we find the companies associated with the call. If the company is in Wisconsin or doing business in Wisconsin we contact them and look at their protocols. We help them bring their company into compliance. If the company is out of Wisconsin we work with multi-jurisdictional agencies, like DOJ, to look at the companies protocols and help them come into compliance. If it is an international company we provide that information to the federal agencies. We make sure they are aware of the volume of the violation at the federal level.
Can you talk about the Wisconsin Clean Sweeps collection program and the budget provision?
The clean sweep program was started in the late 1980s. It was originally a recognition of the changing pesticide registration laws. Some chemicals could be legal one year, and then new information or science comes forward, and the government changes the law and the chemical is now illegal. The local farmer or organization still has the chemicals on their property. Another situation is when someone buys five pounds of a chemical and only use four pounds. They have excess chemicals with no way to get rid of them. We had an urban clean sweep program where chemicals that were not being used in households could be collected and gotten rid of in an environmentally sound manner. There wasn’t an agriculture program, so we created one. The fees collected by the program are used to do the collection. A few years ago the state was signing contracts with the counties to do the collections. The money wasn’t available, so the reimbursements were pro-rated. The budget provision makes the program whole so counties are sure they will get the money they contract for. In the future, our program will run by signing contracts with the money we have available instead of hoping we have the money to pay the contracts. Millions of pounds of products are being removed from houses, barns, sheds, etc. The program prevents contamination of the environment. These products are collected at the county level. They are then picked up by professionals that then take them to another site for decontamination. None of the decontamination sites are in Wisconsin. The program has been very successful in terms of the amount of products that have been collected and eliminated correctly.
Can you talk about the Wisconsin Dairy Processor Program?
As environmental regulations are getting stiffer, the challenges by dairy producing companies are increasing. Some companies need a re-design, engineering, or new water treatment systems. This program is a recognition of the challenges they have. It’s a small part of the financial need for businesses to meet the environmental changes. We are meeting with cheesemakers, dairy producers, warehouses companies, and others to see what we can do to get the biggest bang for our buck. We’ll meet with organization to have a game plan for the most effective use of the money. There are 140 plus cheese making operations in the state; that doesn’t include fluid milk or warehouses. It’s a huge multi-faceted business structure. We have everything from artisan cheese to huge cheese makers. They make Wisconsin the dairy capitol of the world. The money is for everyone, not just large, but also a lot of small cheese companies that can’t get the resources they need to help them stay in compliance.
I think the proposed budget is a stable budget for DATCP. It will allow us to continue to maintain a high quality and safe food supply for Wisconsin and around the world. Available in the budget is the ability to enhance and maintain the environment. The budget treated agriculture well. We look forward to working with organizations to make effective use of the dollars and maintain and effective purpose for the dollars.