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Wisconsin’s nutrient trading clearinghouse bill awaits the Governor’s signature

Wisconsin is a step closer to creating a clearinghouse for nutrient credit trading.  The proposal by State Senator Rob Cowles and Representative Joel Kitchens was one of thirteen water quality bills passed by the State Assembly Tuesday.  It would allow businesses and municipalities that need to reduce phosphorus and nitrogen discharges into ground and surface water to buy nutrient credits through the clearinghouse.  The clearinghouse would then pay farmers for conservation practices that improve water quality, practices many farmers already do.

John Holevoet is with the Dairy Business Association and Edge Dairy Farmers Cooperative, one of many farm groups supporting the bill. He says, “It definitely incentivizes the positive practices that farmers have already started to adopt to help with water quality. Also, it provides a new revenue stream for farmers who are looking for that, and that’s pretty much all of them, and they’re all pretty much on the prowl for how they could improve their bottom line and this gives them, those who are able to participate, a chance to profit from basically good conservation practices.”

Holevoet calls the bill a win-win-win for farmers, the environment, and communities. “We’re going to have a better environment, more successful farmers, and we’re also going to be saving, whether it’s wastewater treatment facilities or industrial users, money they can reinvest in their businesses, too.”

The nutrient credit clearinghouse bill is now on Governor Tony Evers’ desk, and he’s expected to sign it.

The changes to Wisconsin’s existing nutrient credit trading law were introduced in the State Senate almost a year ago, long before the Governor’s special session on agriculture and the Speaker’s Task Force package of bills for water quality.  Farm groups say the existing law made setting up trades difficult.  The State Senate passed the Cowles-Kitchens bill (SB91) unanimously in May, but the Assembly took nine months to consider it.

Other Speaker’s Water Quality Task Force bills that passed the Assembly Tuesday would create a state water policy office, add more county conservation employees, create nitrate management strategies, create farmer grants to grow crops that need less fertilizer, and increase grant funding for landowners with contaminated wells.  Those bills now move to the Senate for consideration.

Ten of the 13 bills passed the Assembly unanimously.   Democrats said three of the bills didn’t do enough to protect water resources.

Passage of the clearinghouse legislation was immediately praised by the Dairy Business Association, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, and Newtrient LLC which represents nearly all U.S. dairy farmers through 14 leading dairy organizations.

According to the Environmental Trading Network, limited or statewide nutrient trading programs are in place in several states including Wisconsin and Missouri and are under development in Minnesota, Iowa, and Arkansas.  ETN says Michigan rescinded its nutrient trading program.

DBA’s John Holevoet discusses the nutrient trading clearinghouse bill and water quality bills with Brownfield’s Larry Lee 2/18/20

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