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MADISON, WI

DNR gives western Wisconsin sand plant preliminary OK 

The state Department of Natural Resources has given a timber company subsidiary preliminary approval for a sand plant in western Wisconsin that would destroy more than 16 acres of wetlands.

The department notified Meteor Timber of the approval last week, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The agency has set an April 18 hearing on the project in Tomah.

Meteor wants to build a sand drying plant and rail spur in Monroe County and a sand mine 14 miles away in neighboring Jackson County. According to Meteor, the facilities would be valued at $65 million and create 100 jobs.

The project would eliminate 16.6 acres of wetlands. Meteor has announced plans for conservation easements for 643 acres on the site.

The project still needs approval form the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The agency is reviewing the plans, according to Jeffrey M. Olson, a section chief for the Corps in northwestern Wisconsin.

CARBONDALE, IL

Illinois farmers uncertain how weather could affect crops 

Unseasonably high temperatures have allowed Illinois farmers to work in the fields, but many of them are wondering how the weather will affect their crops and orchards.

The Illinois State Climatologist Office said February's statewide average temperature was 40.1 degrees as of Tuesday. Warmer-than-normal temperatures are forecast for the first half of March, too.

State climatologist Jim Angel said the temperatures have raised concerns that a sudden freeze could damage Illinois orchards and other crops.

Some farmers are wondering whether the recent warm weather is a good thing, University of Illinois Extension Office director Aaron Dufelmeier said.

"Over the past couple of weeks, the almost summer-like weather has allowed farmers to put on anhydrous and do some early spring tillage," Dufelmeier said. "Unlike most years, the soil conditions are more favorable than the so-called typical year."

Auburn grain farmer Tim Seifert said his crops are four weeks ahead of schedule as corn planted on a half-acre test plot has begun to come up. He said farmers also have begun preparing for spring planting.

"If it stays this warm and this dry, we could see planting in the third or fourth week of March," Seifert said.

Jeff Flamm, co-owner of Flamm Orchards south of Carbondale, said his peach and apple trees are well ahead of schedule.

FITCHBURG, WI

National DHIA presents scholarships to 24 students

The National Dairy Herd Information Association (DHIA) Scholarship Committee selected 24 high school seniors and college students as recipients of $750 scholarships. Judges evaluated applicants on scholastic achievements, leadership in school and community activities, and responses to DHI- and career-related questions.

To be eligible for a National DHIA scholarship, applicants must be a family member or employee of a herd on DHI test, a family member of a DHI employee, or an employee of a DHI affiliate. The DHI affiliate for the herd or affiliate employee must be a National DHIA member.

This year’s National DHIA scholarship winners include Wisconsin youth Kalista Hodorff of Eden and Alyssa Seitz of Seymour. For nine consecutive years, National DHIA has awarded scholarships in memory of Joe Drexler, who worked for NorthStar Cooperative DHI Services. Mitchell Schroepfer, son of David and Jolynne Schroepfer of Birnamwood, WI, is one of two of this year’s recipients.

MARQUETTE, KS

Kansas' dry conditions spur wildfire worries this year

Fire officials worry this year's potential for an outbreak in Kansas could be worse than last year, when the state saw its biggest known wildfire.

As a volunteer fire department chief based out of Marquette, Jim Unruh helped fight last year's Anderson Creek blaze that charred 390,000 acres in Oklahoma and Kansas. That blaze also killed hundreds of cattle, destroyed millions of dollars' worth of buildings and fences, and endangered hundreds of residents and volunteer firefighters.

Amid Kansas' already dry conditions, problems have surfaced this year. Unruh's crew in January battled a wildfire of 3,600 acres. Eric Ward, a Kansas Forest Service fire specialist, said the state in January had three large wildfires, which are defined as those that burn 100 or more acres of trees or 300 or more acres of brush or grass.

DES MOINES, IA

Iowa FB says its not behind effort to dismantle utility lawsuit

Opponents of a bill that would dismantle Des Moines Water Works say a powerful statewide farm group is pushing the legislative effort in an attempt to kill the utility's lawsuit challenging whether Iowa farmers should be responsible for fertilizer and other nutrients seeping from their fields.

The bill "has all the signs of a power play by the Farm Bureau to target and muzzle Des Moines Water Works and kill the lawsuit," said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, an Iowa City Democrat. "It's so farmers can continue business as usual. It will take away any pressure to address nitrates in Des Moines' drinking water.”

Water Works claims underground drainage tiles are funneling high levels of nitrates into the Raccoon River, a source of drinking water for 500,000 central Iowa residents.

Iowa Farm Bureau rebutted the accusations, saying it did not author the bill and has not registered in support of it.

The bill would eliminate Des Moines Water Works, moving the utility and its assets under the Des Moines City Council, and opening the door for a regional water authority, according to the bill's author, Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota.

But Bill Stowe, Des Moines Water Works' CEO, said the Iowa Farm Bureau has worked aggressively to quash the utility's challenge over agriculture's responsibility for water pollution, primarily through a nonprofit opposition group it supports — the Iowa Partnership for Clean Water.

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