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Wisconsin lawmakers eye bigger prizes, new rules for local fairs

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(The Center Square) – There could soon be more livestock and larger blue ribbon checks at Wisconsin’s local fairs.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture on Thursday held a hearing on a plan that would double the prize money for Wisconsin’s county and district fairs.

“They’re excited when they get that little check,” Lori Ripp with the Lodi Fair told lawmakers. “That $2 dollar premium may not mean a lot to just everybody. But $2 encourages them to try again.”

Ripp said local fairs are for everyone, and the events and contests they offer are for everybody.

The plan before lawmakers, SB 311, would double the state’s share of prize money for local fairs from $10,000 per fair to $20,000.

Susan Quam, vice president at the Dane County Fair, told lawmakers that extra prize money will help all fairs across the state do what they need to stay open and relevant.

“The state aid they receive for premiums that are given to all exhibitors is a very vital part of their financial strategy,” Quam said.

But just as important as the extra money, fair managers add, is that the new legislation removes Wisconsin’s rule that bans people from showing animals at two different fairs.

“We’re in a unique situation,” Marie Preuss with the Elroy Fair told lawmakers. “Our exhibitors come from school districts. So they may be able to show at another fair, and most do. This bill allows fairs to determine who their exhibitors are.”

Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection currently bans people from showing livestock at multiple fairs.

“Nowadays with fewer and fewer people in agriculture, many more exhibitors are showing a managerial animal,” Preuss explained. “They just don’t have that huge herd to go out and bring a second, or third animal to a different fair.”

There are 74 county and district fairs in Wisconsin that got state-subsidized prize money last year. DATCP’s numbers show the total for premium spending came to $456,000. The new plan would double that, meaning Wisconsin would be providing nearly $1 million for local fair prizes if the plan becomes law.

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