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3 Open Minutes with Laurie Fischer

Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 24 November 2015

For more than 16 years, Laurie Fischer walked the halls of Wisconsin’s capitol building, lobbying for legislation that favored the state’s dairy farmers.

Now, she is channeling her time and energy into a greater cause: federal policies that impact the profitability, production and growth potential of dairy operations nationwide.

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Over the past year, Fischer transitioned from her previous position as executive director of the Dairy Business Association (DBA) to president of the newly founded American Dairy Coalition (ADC). Operating as the Laurie Fischer Group, she continues to consult DBA’s state activities while working separately on ADC’s federal initiatives.

Fischer sat down with Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen to reflect on her career with DBA and discuss how her new venture continues to address the political concerns of dairy producers.

laurie fischerLooking back on 16 years with DBA, what changes did you see in the dairy industry during that time?

FISCHER: For Wisconsin specifically, citizens and legislators began to realize the true value of our dairy industry, not only for dairy producers but for the economy of the entire state. In Wisconsin, we still have more than 9,500 dairy farms.

This state isn’t going to decide how big any farm should or should not be. Citizens demand that the industry protects the environment, and producers have changed their practices and drastically improved the protection of the environment.

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What legislation or initiatives you worked on have been the biggest victories for dairy producers?

FISCHER: When I started with DBA, milk production in Wisconsin was decreasing, and on average Wisconsin lost five dairy farms per day. Processors were considering leaving the state, and our industry was really at a crossroads as to if Wisconsin would remain the dairy state and if the processing infrastructure would leave and move to where the milk was.

Because of this, I was very dedicated to make something change to make sure Wisconsin kept its claim as America’s Dairyland. I worked on a piece of legislation known as siting legislation.

Siting legislation removed uncertainty for growing and expanding livestock operations in the state and also for green site operations. It took four years to get this passed, and now dairy producers know what the standards are, and they can be sure if they meet the standards they will be allowed to grow their operations.

Another project I worked on was the last farm bill. That was another four-year initiative. There was a component in the farm bill that would have allowed the government to determine how much milk a dairy farmer could or could not produce.

Even though the thought process on that was probably well-meaning, the first thing dairy farmers tell me when I work with them is, “Can you please tell government to get out of my way? I just want to farm.” Sometimes even well-intended policy can be detrimental to your operation and to your bottom line.

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With that said, I felt it was more important to have a new insurance type of policy plan so producers who wanted to protect their investments had the ability to take out insurance rather than the government telling them how much they could or could not produce.

The supply management concept was eliminated, and today dairy producers are able to utilize an insurance program as a risk management tool.

How do you feel your previous and current work has benefited dairy producers?

FISCHER: A lot of what I have done is bring policy solutions to legislators that increased profitability for producers. Working in politics the last 16 years has provided a significant amount of access in the political world.

This provides our industry with power to make positive changes. Having me fix bad policy ensures the growth and expansion of the industry while protecting the environment.

When I’m not working on a legislative bill, I am typically working on new rules or rule revisions with the agencies. The most beneficial part is reducing the cost of compliance to the dairy producer.

Most of those who are writing the rules at the agencies have never been on a dairy farm, and there is often a disconnect between the rule requirements and how to implement it on the farm. The majority of the time, I am really trying to bring those two concepts together to find a way to put in place scientifically based, affordable mandates.

What is the American Dairy Coalition (ADC) and why did you choose to spearhead this group?

FISCHER: The American Dairy Coalition is a group of philosophically aligned individuals who are working together with the dairy/livestock and agriculture industry leaders-producers, processors, vendors, suppliers and key stakeholders to improve current conditions for not only them but also the population.

It is essential to have coalition members that can reach out to policymakers and politicians in order for our voice to be heard on Capitol Hill and around the country.

Currently, the American Dairy Coalition has more than 3,000 voices. My job is to coordinate these and successfully move policy forward on Capitol Hill. We are in charge of our own destiny. It is up to us to make legislators notice us and be heard.

What are the coalition’s primary initiatives?

FISCHER: We have a clear, but relatively narrow, focus on these key topics: securing the future of the dairy/livestock agriculture workforce, advancing reliable new trade gains by negotiating key market access and reducing burdensome regulations.

Immigration reform is a top priority. I hear from producers across the nation that their number one concern is the lack of a reliable labor force. I also hear from bankers who are concerned because they see that equity positions are decent, yet producers are not considering expansion because they don’t know who will milk the additional cows. It is critical this is fixed.

Because of these conversations, I met with Speaker Boehner (before he gave his resignation). He really believes in the dairy industry and was hoping to bring some type of immigration reform to the House floor. ADC has been working on policy language that would allow a new visa guest-worker program. The industry needs to have policy ready for when policy begins to move forward on immigration reform.

What motivates you?

FISCHER: I think what motivates me is that I appreciated growing up on a dairy farm and being the daughter of a great farmer who taught me to work hard and appreciate the value food conveys to the world.

How do you want people to remember the impact you made on the dairy industry?

FISCHER: As someone who believed in them and the hard work they do.  PD

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