Danny Strupp looks over a used, 18-foot-wide disc for sale at Strupp Implement in Slinger. It will likely sell for around $9,500. A new one like it would cost about $30,000.

A legislator has proposed using state lottery money to pay the interest on loans taken out by beginning farmers.

Lottery proceeds are used now for general property tax relief that amounted to $132 million in 2009, according to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

Rep. Mark Radcliffe (D-Black River Falls) would like to divert part of the lottery money to pay the interest on loans for beginning farmers for roughly their first three years in business.

That's a period when farmers are especially vulnerable since they haven't established much equity in their operations.

"Hopefully we can help them get over that hump and keep them in farming," Radcliffe said.

The proposal, Assembly Joint Resolution 119, would require a change in the state constitution.

It would have to be adopted by two successive legislatures and approved by voters before it could become effective. A public hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, at 10:30 a.m., before the Committee on State Affairs and Homeland Security.

Radcliffe said the proposal is well-timed, given that farmers are retiring in large numbers and there's a shortage of beginning farmers.

"This is a problem that people are talking about but nobody seems to be doing anything," he said.

It's still unknown how much of the lottery proceeds would be diverted to help farmers.

But there would be huge economic benefits in rural communities if more young people stayed on the farm, according to Radcliffe.

"We have got to start somewhere," he said.

It can easily cost several hundred thousand dollars to buy a small herd of cows and some land to start dairy farming.

And it's tough to get a loan now, especially if you don't have equity, said Paul Rozwadowski, a dairy farmer from Stanley.

While net farm income dropped by a third nationwide in 2009, in Wisconsin it fell 56% to $1.1 billion - the lowest level since 2002, according to University of Wisconsin-Madison estimates.

Wisconsin's farm sector took a bigger hit because the wholesale price that farmers received for milk, the state's single largest source of cash farm receipts, dropped more sharply than other commodities prices.

"This is the toughest period we have ever seen," said Rozwadowski, who began farming 32 years ago after working in a Milwaukee shoebox factory.

Radcliffe's proposal could face numerous objections, including an argument that programs already exist to help family farms.

Almost anything would be helpful, especially for young farmers who aren't getting financial help from relatives, according to the Wisconsin Farmers Union, which represents many small farms.

"There's no silver bullet to make farming a sure thing. But an accumulation of positive steps is helpful," said Scott Schultz, WFU executive director.

Something is needed to get more people into farming, said Danny Strupp, owner of Strupp Implement Co., a farm equipment dealership in Slinger.

Banks might be more willing to make loans to beginning farmers if they knew the interest payments were covered. But farmers still need a profitable business plan, said Tom Oberhaus, a Waukesha dairy farmer.

"I have no problem with the idea of helping someone start farming, but you need a plan on how you're going to make some money," Oberhaus said.

The lottery proposal, he said, sounds more like a "feel good" program.

Radcliffe said he believes voters would endorse the proposal, given the importance of farming to the state's economy.

But tapping the lottery proceeds to help one group of people may not be appealing.

"In the context of what else is going on in the state's finances these days, I would question whether this is the right time to be advancing something like this," said George Lightbourn, president of Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank.