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MADISON, WI

Wisconsin farmers get $432M in federal aid amid closures

Wisconsin farmers received more than $432 million in federal aid amid farm closures last year, but some said the payments did little to fix the damage caused by tariffs placed on dairy and agricultural products.

The federal government offered farmers across the country financial assistance through the Market Facilitation Program. 

Darin Von Ruden, president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union and owner of a small organic dairy farm, told the Wisconsin State Journal that the payments weren't enough to keep struggling farms afloat.

"If you look at the true value of what farmers lost, it didn't even make up that difference at all, so it was certainly something that allowed farmers to pay off some bills, but it didn't clear their debts," Von Ruden said.

Program applicants received the aid between September 2018 and November 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Those payments ranged from more than $850,000 to as little as $2.

Thomas Schaub, owner of Jewel Family Farms, said more farm closures could occur before producers are relieved from market woes due to the trade wars, overproduction and stagnant milk prices. 

"Most of the farmers I talk to, they'd prefer the government would stay out of farming altogether due to delay in process regarding legislation or regulation. They never see the results that they're hoping," Schaub said.

DUBUQUE, IA

Layoffs continue at Deere & Company in Dubuque

Citing "market conditions," the company informed employees at John Deere Dubuque Works of the layoffs of 105 workers last week. They will take effect April 6. Employees make construction and forestry equipment at the Dubuque factory.

"Each Deere factory balances the size of its production workforce with customer demand for products from their individual factory," Deere & Company Director of Strategic Public Relations Ken Golden told the DesMoines Register in an email.

This is the third round of mass layoffs at Deere plants in eastern Iowa in the last four months. On Oct. 1, the company announced 113 employees would get laid off at John Deere Davenport Works. The company announced a second round of 57 layoffs at the same factory on Dec. 2.

Including the layoffs, Golden said the company has added 400 employees in Kansas, Illinois and Iowa since 2017.

ROCHESTER, N.Y.

Lawsuit filed against USDA over slaughter of sick, injured pigs

Animal protection groups sued Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and the Department of Agriculture on Feb. 6 for failing to protect pigs who are too sick or injured to walk at slaughterhouses, posing serious risks to animals and food safety. 

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Rochester, New York, challenges the agency's failure to follow Congress's longstanding mandates regarding these "downed" or "non-ambulatory" animals, as well as its recent denial of a petition to ban their slaughter.

Plaintiffs are Farm Sanctuary, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Outlook, Animal Welfare Institute, Compassion in World Farming, Farm Forward, and Mercy For Animals. They are represented by the Animal Law Litigation Clinic at the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark Law School.

Every year, well over half a million pigs arrive at U.S. slaughterhouses too sick or injured to stand or walk. Downed pigs are at a heightened risk of carrying a host of human-transmissible pathogens,  including Listeria, Campylobacter, Salmonella, swine flu,  and Yersinia. They are also at a heightened risk of inhumane handling, including being excessively electro-shocked, prodded, kicked, shoved, and dragged by workers attempting to force them to move.

"The federal government continues to treat pigs as industrial commodities to be produced as cheaply as possible, without regard for animal welfare or consumer safety," said Irene Au-Young, a student in the Animal Law Litigation Clinic who is representing the plaintiffs. Law school clinic student Hira Jaleel added, "the Department of Agriculture violates the very laws it is entrusted with enforcing by encouraging cruel and inhumane handling of weak and sick pigs."

In 2002, Congress amended the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act—which governs not just the slaughter of animals but also their handling at the slaughterhouse—to direct the Secretary of Agriculture to investigate and report to Congress on a host of issues related to nonambulatory livestock, including humane handling, and, based on this report, to promulgate any regulations needed to protect these animals.

Despite the passage of nearly two decades, there is no indication that the USDA has ever reported on nonambulatory pigs, even though pigs comprise approximately 75% of livestock slaughter in the U.S.

PIERRE, S.D.

Hemp bill approved by House committee with Noem's support

A House committee on Feb. 6 unanimously approved a bill to legalize and regulate the growth, processing and transportation of industrial hemp in South Dakota.

The bill's advancement to the House floor marked progress on an issue that divided legislators and Gov. Kristi Noem last year, but disagreements remain on how to fund the hemp program.

The Republican governor vetoed a bill that would have allowed industrial hemp last year. She said in the fall she would veto a hemp bill again this year because it could lead to legalizing marijuana, but changed her position just before the session began.

Noem said she still doesn't think industrial hemp is a good idea, but her office worked with legislators to craft the bill this year and she spoke in favor of the bill before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee. She wants the hemp program to be regulated by "four guardrails" that would provide for the program's enforcement, regulation, transportation permitting, and funding.

Both hemp and marijuana are derived from cannabis plants. But hemp is allowed under Department of Agriculture guidelines if it has less than 0.3% of THC, the compound in marijuana that produces a high.

House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, a Republican from Platte, introduced this year's bill and said proponents of the proposal have had three meetings with the governor's office to work out the details. He expected it to pass the House.

Funding the program may still become a sticking point.

The proposal calls for a maximum fee of $500 to apply for a license to grow hemp, $2,000 to apply for a processing license and $25 for a permit to transport it. Growers and processors would also have to pay inspection fees. The bill would make it a Class 2 misdemeanor to purchase, transport or receive raw hemp without a license. It also allows for the sale of CBD products, but does not allow hemp to be smoked.

WASHINGTON D.C.

UFW leader asks climate panel to protect farm workers from heat deaths

Former United Farm Workers President Arturo S. Rodriguez urged the U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to enact legislation protecting farm workers from dying or becoming ill from extreme heat. It is similar to first-in-the-nation heat rules the UFW pushed through that has saved the lives of countless California farm workers and prevented heat illness among many more.

The UFW, working with U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.)—then a California state legislator— convinced Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to issue the first comprehensive standards in the nation protecting California farm and other outdoor workers from the heat. The union worked with Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown's administration to strengthen the rules and their enforcement in 2015. The rest of the nation has yet to find a solution to excessive heat that plagues field workers and other outside laborers.

Rodriguez testified at the hearing on behalf of farm workers who are at the frontlines of heat illness. He was accompanied by Pablo Martinez, a UFW Foundation member and former farm worker who labored in the fields of Monterey County for 16 years alongside his parents, harvesting and cultivating grapes, lettuce, strawberries, broccoli, onions, garlic and tomatoes. Having toiled in California fields both before and after the heat standards existed, Martinez has personal understanding of the impact on farm workers of legislation aimed at preventing workplace fatalities.

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