Farmers hoping for a better year ahead as 2019 runs out

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Farmers have endured a lot in the past 12 months - battling both Mother Nature and low prices and the stress that goes with trying to hold on until better times come.

Farmers have endured a lot in the past 12 months. A seemingly unending wet weather pattern delayed both planting and harvest, leaving many farmers wondering if they will have adequate (or reasonable quality) feed supplies to carry over until next spring.

While milk prices have begun their slow climb out of the cellar, the rebound in prices may be a little too late for the hundreds of farms that called it quits this year. Adding insult to injury, many producers sold their milk cows for much less than they were worth.

And many farmers have long given up on trying to keep abreast of the latest trade talks that have yet to produce a promising outcome for grain commodity sales overseas. 

But those who still get up before dawn and give it their all in producing great products for consumers, there's still hope there's a bit of light at the end of the tunnel and that perhaps 2020 will bring more stable prices and a bit more sunshine and optimism for the future back to the state.


  • Farmers entered 2019 on a weary note after seeing net farm income continue to fall five out of the last six years. Producers exiting the dairy farming sector in Wisconsin numbered nearly 900 in 2018. With 2018 averaging around $14.93 per hundredweight, dairy experts claim the  industry may be showing signs of recovery due to the slowing of milk production and reduction in dairy cow numbers as dairy farmers exit the business.
  • Farm Bill heads to President Trump after Senate, House approval. The sweeping agriculture bill will fund key farm safety net programs for the next five years without making significant changes to the food stamp program.The legislation comes with an estimated price tag of $867 billion over a decade. The legislation provides more than $400 billion in farm subsidies, conservation programs and food aid for the poor.
  • Farmers, who rely on a number of federal programs for information and financial and technical assistance, are directly affected by the lengthy government shutdown that started on Dec. 22, including the closure of county FSA offices.
The Court of Appeals is asking the Supreme Court to step in on a fight over expansion of Kinnard Farms in Kewaunee County.
  • A total of 81 plaintiffs are sueing Wysocki Farms and Central Sands Dairy, saying the large farms knowingly contaminating groundwater and private well systems and endangering neighbors for at least a decade without warning them.
  • The Court of Appeals is asking the Supreme Court to step in on a fight over expansion of Kinnard Farms in Kewaunee County. At issue is legislation approved during Gov. Scott Walker’s administration that effectively limited the state DNR’s authority to limit Kinnard’s herd size or require the farm to monitor groundwater as part of state permitting.


  • Freezing rain, heavy, wet snow collapsed a barn roof at Dutch Dairy near Thorp, injuring three cows. The overburdened roof narrowly misses a pen holding 100 cows.
  • During four of the past five years, the suicide rates in six Wisconsin counties were higher than for the entire state of Wisconsin,coinciding with a severe downturn in most sectors of the agricultural economy. The statistics mobilize Extension staff and other agencies to host outreach meetings in support of farmers during challenging and stressful times.
Wisconsin’s rate of farm bankruptcies is the highest it has been in over a decade.
  • The financial pain of farmers in the Midwest has gotten the attention of the national media as farm income dropped in 2018 and farm bankruptcies rose. Wisconsin’s rate of farm bankruptcies is the highest it has been in over a decade and the filings were more than double the level experienced in 2009.


  • President Donald Trump says he will extend a deadline to escalate tariffs on Chinese imports, citing "substantial progress" in weekend talks between the two countries.
  • Wisconsin DATCP Secretary designee Brad Pfaff applauds Gov. Evers for measures in his proposed state budget that will help family farmers, support rural communities, and protect the state’s environmental resources.
Richard Guggisberg, center, of Guggisberg Cheese in Ohio celebrates a first-place victory at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest with Kim Rabuck and Marieke Penterman of Marieke Gouda, which took second and third places, on March 7, 2019 in Green Bay, Wis. Sarah Kloepping/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
  • AI cooperative stockholders and delegates of East Central/Select Sires, based in Waupun, Wis., and NorthStar Cooperative, Lansing, Mich., announce a unanimous decision to merge the two businesses into CentralStar Cooperative Inc..
  • Two goudas cheeses from Marieke Gouda in Thorp place second and third at the 2019 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest.
  • In an effort to alleviate the financial and emotional stress experienced by state dairy farmers, the 31 members of the Dairy Task Force 2.0 approve 49 recommendations at March meeting. Recommendations include expanding markets locally, regionally and globally.
  • Dairy farmers and producers applaud reintroduction of DAIRY PRIDE Act reform to combat the unfair practice of mislabeling non-dairy products.


  • Older farmers, fewer farms and fewer young people are stepping up to take their place on U.S. farms, according to the newly released 2017 Ag Census data. Data also shows that the vast majority of farms in Wisconsin are less than 500 acres, with most farms owned by one or two producers.
Farmers around the state started spring with fewer acres of alfalfa due to winterkill. The state was rated at 25% severe, 18% moderate and 17% light. Forty percent of alfalfa was reported as undamaged, compared to 82 percent from last year.
  • A lack of snow in December and January along with ice sheeting raises concern among farmers who fear widespread winterkill on their alfalfa stands.
  • U.S. Trade Representative's Office rejects Europe's anti-trade agenda policies that seek to intentionally disadvantage U.S. suppliers in global markets by blocking their ability to use common names such as fontina, gorgonzola, asiago and feta cheeses.


  • Abigal Martin of Rock County is the newest Alice in Dairyland. Martin grew up on a 175-cow dairy farm near Milton and graduated from UW-Madison with a degree in Dairy Science.
  • A wet spring has farmers on edge as they are running out of time to get their crops in by the crop insurance final planting date. Many weigh options of switching up crops or not planting fields at all. Many farmers had little carryover from the winter and are anxious to get forage into the feed bunk.
A wet spring has farmers on edge as they are running out of time to get their crops in by the crop insurance final planting date.
  • Financial markets are shaken over growing realization that the U.S. and China are far from settling a bitter, year-long trade dispute. President Donald Trump rolls out another $16 billion in aid for farmers hurt by his trade policies.


  • Thousands of Midwest farmers are trying to make decisions as they endure a spring like no other. Crop woes were further compounded by torrential rain and flooding that has made planting impossible and killed off crops that were just starting to emerge.
  • President Donald Trump announces that he had suspended plans to impose tariffs on Mexico, tweeting that the country "has agreed to take strong measures" to stem the flow of Central American migrants into the United States.
Several stores have removed all fairlife products from its stores in response to investigations of alleged animal abuse with the Indiana-based dairy company.
  • Retailers begin pulling Fairlife products from their shelves after an animal rights group releases graphic video showing workers kicking and throwing young calves at the Indiana dairy farm. Three former employees are charged with animal abuse.


  • With dairy farms in Wisconsin experiencing unprecedented struggles, Farm Aid announces it is hosting its annual star-studded benefit concert in East Troy, Wis.
  • Farmer says wolves killed 13 of his sheep on his Wood County farm. He urges other farmers dealing with the same issue to contact the DNR supporting the removal of wolves from the endangered list.
  • While Farm Technology Days kicked off under sunny skies, attendance for the thee-day show at  Walters Grain Farm in Jefferson County is disappointing.
Nicholas and Justin Diemel
  • Brothers Nick Diemel, 34, and Justin Diemel, 24, of Shawano County are reported missing after missing their July 21 flight to return to Wisconsin from a business trip in Clinton and Caldwell counties in Missouri.


  • After serving seven years at the helm of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, President Jim Holte announces he will be stepping down at the year's end.
  • FEMA issues major disaster declaration for 17 Wisconsin counties and two tribes affected by severe storms, tornadoes, and flooding in July. Multiple rounds of storms beginning on July 18 and continuing through July 20 brought heavy rain and flash flooding. Strong winds with speeds up to 100 mph downed hundreds of thousands of trees and numerous power lines.
After serving seven terms, Jim Holte will step down as president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.
  • Farmers and farm groups clash with rural homeowners during DATCP meeting involving proposed changes to the livestock siting rule. Farmers say siting rule changes are "largely unworkable and unfair” and fail to include farmer feedback.


  • Wisconsin DNR looks to expand manure restrictions that would impose restrictions above and beyond existing statewide standards on manure and fertilizer in "sensitive areas" with highly permeable soil.
  • Trump administration says revoking WOTUS provides "much-needed regulatory certainty" for farmers, homebuilders and landowners.
  • Cheese packager and dairy publication editor say the Wisconsin AG failed to prosecute wrongdoers in tainted cheese complaint, where tainted cheese bound for mink ranch nearly made it to human food supply.


  • Garland Nelson of Missouri is charged in connection with the murder of two Wisconsin cattle dealers missing since July. The remains of Nick and Justin Diemel are found on Nelson's farm.
  • Ag secretary Sonny Perdue meets with farmers at World Dairy Expo, fields questions from farmers on trade, milk prices. Perdue is soundly criticized when he says he doesn’t know if the small family dairy farms can survive as the industry moves toward a large farm model.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue listens to a question from a Wisconsin farmer during a town hall meeting at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis. Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)
  • A slow ag economy and an off-farm site prompted Wisconsin Farm Technology Days officials to cancel plans of holding the 2021 show at the Jefferson County Fair Park as previously planned.
  • LaClare Creamery's $10 million expansion in Fond du Lac County brings its soft goat cheese - Chevre - to forefront of its production focus.


  • Senate fires Gov. Evers' Ag Secretary appointee Brad Pfaff despite calls from farmers and ag stakeholders to keep him as head of the DATCP. It was the first time since 1987 that the Senate had rejected a gubernatorial appointee. Senate Republicans defended their move, implying that Pfaff hadn’t done enough to help the ailing farm economy; saying rejecting his nomination would help farmers.
  • Deputy Ag Secretary Randy Romanski tapped to head DATCP following Pfaff ouster a week earlier. Gov. Evers rehires Pfaff as the state Department of Administration's director of business and rural development.
Senate fires Gov. Evers' Ag Secretary appointee Brad Pfaff despite calls from farmers and ag stakeholders to keep him as head of the DATCP.
  • The livestock siting rules revision package – a polarizing topic in the farm community – is dropped as time runs out on the protocol that must be followed in the rulemaking process at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
  • Nation's largest milk processor, Dean Foods, seeks bankruptcy protection, claiming fluid milk is being squeezed out of the marketplace with a myriad of competing products in the dairy case. Dean eyes sales talks with Dairy Farmers of America.


  • Contentious regional pollution study in southwest Wisconsin shows 59% of sampled wells are contaminated with fecal matter.
Low milk prices over the course of four years have pushed many smaller farms to the edge of existence.
  • Milk prices for 2019 should end up about $2.20 per hundredweight higher on average than last year’s average. However, some economists fear the uptick in prices may tempt farmers to add cows to the herd, pushing up the milk supply once again. Others contend that farmers are still hurting from the hard hit to their equity and aren't in the position to expand. Lower quality and less feed supplies may impact milk production and the farmers' bottom line if forced to buy additional feed.
  • Joe Bragger succeeds Jim Holte as new Wisconsin Farm Bureau president.
  • Trump, House Dems strike deal on revised USMCA trade pact, delivering a win for the president on a top legislative priority.
  • Drafting of new, more restrictive manure rules gets OK from DNR board.
  • Law implementing new bioengineered product labeling intended to clear up GMO confusion will begin Jan. 1, 2020 and be fully mandated by Jan. 1, 2022.
  • Donald Trump and China announced a Phase One trade deal, including cancellation of tariffs on Chinese goods that were set to take effect the weekend of Dec. 13.

  • Performance approval for President Donald Trump has climbed to an all-time high in the Farm Journal Pulse Poll. Of the 1,225 farmers and ranchers who responded, 82% either strongly approve or somewhat approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president. That is up from 78% in the previous month. Only 17% of respondents disapprove of the president’s job performance in the December Pulse Poll.

  • The House achieved bipartisan passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, setting the stage for Senate ratification of the pact.