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Lost dairy markets top 2017 news story

posted: December 26. 2017 07:13a CST
by / The Country Today staff

It was a year to remember in the dairy industry, but not necessarily because of good news.

The lost dairy markets in the spring that nearly put 75 Wisconsin dairy farmers out of business and left low prices in their wake topped The Country Today’s annual Top 10 story list for 2017.

The Top 10 was created in a vote of The Country Today editorial staff members from a list of 13 potential candidates. The staff attempts to determine what the 10 most important or impactful stories were to the newspaper’s readers during the past year.

Here’s the list, as selected by the editorial staff, for 2017:

No. 1. Dozens of dairy farmers in Wisconsin and Minnesota found themselves in a tough spot after being dropped by their dairy processors last spring. Full to capacity, processors blamed having to cut farmers on the loss of markets due to restrictive Canadian trade policies. However, some in the industry pointed fingers at processors for failing to better manage supply and at farmers for too aggressively expanding herds, creating an industry awash in milk and low prices.

State agriculture departments, dairy organizations and legislators quickly stepped in to seek solutions, and other processors were urged to make room for the displaced milk.

No. 2. Donald Trump was inaugurated as this nation’s 45th president in January, which had a ripple effect on federal policies and agriculture. A new administration means new federal leaders, and topping that list is Sonny Perdue, who was the last Cabinet-level official approved by Congress. He finally took office in late April as U.S. agriculture secretary.

Two issues of special importance to agriculture rose to the surface under the new administration. Trump repeatedly threatened to withdraw the U.S. from the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, causing many in agriculture to worry about the repercussions of lost trade to this country’s top two trading partners. Trump officials are also proposing a repeal of the Waters of the U.S. rule, which many farm groups had said was too restrictive. Trump said the rule should apply only to navigable waters that affect interstate commerce.

No. 3. Ben Brancel announced his retirement as secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in August after serving in the role since 2011. Brancel had previously served as DATCP secretary from 1997 to 2001, and worked as the state director of the Wisconsin Farm Service Agency in between his two stints as DATCP secretary.

Brancel said he made the decision in order to spend more time with his grandchildren and planned to return to farming full time on his farm in Marquette County.

Sheila Harsdorf from River Falls was named the Wisconsin agriculture secretary in November, becoming the first woman to serve as DATCP secretary. Harsdorf has served in the Wisconsin Senate since 2001 and was re-elected in 2016, opening her seat to special election for the remainder of her term.

No. 4. Three southwestern Wisconsin women won their civil lawsuit to declare Wisconsin’s ban on the unlicensed sale of non-hazardous home-baked goods as unconstitutional. Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge Duane Jorgenson first said the ruling only pertained to the plaintiffs — Dela Ends, Lisa Kivirist and Kriss Marion — but later changed his tune, saying it should affect all Wisconsin home bakers.

The women claimed in their April filing that the state’s law makes it virtually impossible for home bakers to legally sell their goods. A number of commercial bakers and food processing lobbies claimed that if the law were overturned, food safety would suffer and it would be unfair to business owners who had invested to become fully licensed.

Wisconsin legislators have tried unsuccessfully for four years to pass legislation that would allow the sale of home-baked goods.

No. 5. A May 31 explosion and fire killed five workers, injured a dozen more and did extensive damage to the Didion Milling Plant in the Columbia County village of Cambria. Management and the community rallied together to grieve their losses and move forward with plans to keep the business in the community of 700-some residents and rebuild the corn-processing plant. Didion kept all 200 employees on the payroll after the explosion and has helped find new jobs for those affected by the rebuild.

Last month, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed $1.84 million in fines and issued 19 citations against the company, saying the explosion was a preventable tragedy. OSHA officials concluded the blast was probably caused by an accumulation of highly combustible dust from the milling process. Citations included failures to maintain equipment, prevent static electric discharge, control dust accumulation and provide adequate protective equipment to workers.

Didion management said they disagreed with the severity of the fines and were considering their next steps. In the meantime, the company is rebuilding a new plant with state-of-the-art safety equipment. The cause of the 2017 blast is still under investigation.

No. 6. Wisconsin cows made quite a splash this year: In February, it was announced that Ever-Green-View My Gold-ET, owned by the Kestell family of Waldo, produced 77,480 pounds of milk in 365 days, setting a new national single-lactation milk record.

That record was toppled in October by Selz-Pralle Aftershock 3918 from the Selz-Pralle Dairy in Humbird, who produced 78,170 pounds of milk.

Previous record-holder Bur-Wall Buckeye Gigi perished in a barn fire at the Behnke farm near Brooklyn in September. Gigi produced 74,650 pounds of milk during her 2015 lactation.

No. 7. After two years of negotiations and planning, the merged Compeer Financial became a reality in July. Compeer Financial is a member-owned Farm Credit cooperative that provides loans, leases, risk management and other financial services throughout 144 counties in Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The $18.5 billion organization was formed with the merger of Badgerland Financial headquartered in Prairie du Sac, AgStar Financial Services in Mankato, Minn., and 1st Farm Credit Services in Normal, Ill.

The cooperative — now the third largest in the Farm Credit System — has about 1,200 employees and serves about 43,200 members.

No. 8. Brillion woman Amber Horn-Leiterman was elected chairwoman of the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board in February. She is only the second farmer from Wisconsin to be elected to the role and only the third female chairwoman in the history of the board.

She said she planned to use her year as chairwoman to share more about what the board is and what it does to boost milk sales. The board is funded by checkoff dollars and aims to help increase the demand for dairy products through research, education and innovation

Horn-Leiterman milks on her family’s farm, Hornstead Dairy, with her parents and brother.

No. 9. Eau Claire County was announced as 2020 host county of Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, Wisconsin’s largest outdoor agricultural show. Huntsinger Farms, the world’s largest grower and processor of horseradish, will be the host farm for the event, which will run from Tuesday through Thursday, July 21-23, 2020.

The show was last hosted by Eau Claire County in Augusta in 1992, and two days of the three-day show were canceled because of heavy rains.

The 2018 show will be in Wood County and 2019 in Jefferson County. FTD has attracted as many as 60,000 people in past years although attendance has been considerably lower the past two years, with the 2017 Kewaunee County show drawing about 26,000 visitors.

No. 10. The Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center continues to take shape in the town of Newton in Manitowoc County. The steel framework for the state-of-the-art agricultural education center was put into place Sept. 6, and the facility is scheduled to open in early summer of 2018.

Originally called the Wisconsin Agricultural Education Center, the facility changed names in early October. Officials hope to draw 100,000 visitors the first year it’s open. Construction is being handled by Bayland Buildings.

Photo by Jim Massey - Shane and Jennifer Sauer of Waterloo, who got a letter from Grassland Dairy that they were being displaced as of May 1 but got another processor at the last minute.
Submitted photo - Selz-Pralle Aftershock 3918 is the latest national single-lactation milk production record setter, with 78,170 pounds of milk in a 365-day lactation. The cow is owned by Scott Pralle and his wife, Pam Selz-Pralle of Humbird.
Photo by Jim Massey - Five people died in the explosion that rocked Didion Milling in Cambria on May 31. The company is moving on following the tragedy, but the employees and their families are not forgotten.
Photo by Heidi Clausen - U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, left, toured the Wisconsin State Fair Aug. 3 with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and then-State Agriculture Secretary Ben Brancel.
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