Ag Briefs: Farmers ordered to pay back wages over COVID-19 quarantines

Wisconsin State Farmer
National briefs


State legislature blocks DNR from enforcing PFAS regulations

Republicans in the state legislature have blocked the Department of Natural Resources from enacting further regulations in response to waters contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

The new rule, in effect as of Dec. 4, prevented manufacturers from dumping detectable amounts of PFAS in water bodies. But the rules committee, controlled by Republicans, voted 6-4 against the new regulations, saying the DNR did not have the authority to enforce the rule. Democrats claimed the GOP is "neutering" attempts to reduce PFAS contamination.

PFAS are chemicals used in the manufacturing of firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and food packaging that are harmful to humans and do not easily break down. They may cause damage to the organs, such as the liver and thyroid, and cause hormonal imbalances and obesity if found in the body.


Farmers ordered to pay back wages over COVID-19 quarantines

Three area farmers have been ordered to pay more than $11,000 in back wages after denying paid sick leave to employees who were advised to self-quarantine following potential COVID-19 exposure. 

The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division ordered Coleman Agriculture in Gervais to pay seven employees $8,878; St. Joseph Orchard Inc. in McMinnville to pay four employees $1,820 and J Farms LLC to pay one employee $720, the Statesman Journal reported. 

The paid sick leave is required by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

The Act gives tax credits to businesses with fewer than 500 employees for employee paid leave for the employee's health needs or to care for family members.

It wasn't immediately known if the farmers can appeal the order. 


Youth livestock programs available online this winter and spring

The Wisconsin Youth Livestock Program from the University of Wisconsin-Madison is offering educational programming over Zoom between January and May every second Thursday of the month at 7 pm CST.

The topics, friendly to both youth and adults, include swine care, cow and lamb anatomy, using artificial intelligence in animal sciences and "meat science." You must register for free on the WYLP website to attend the sessions. The programming will also count towards your county educational requirements for county fairs and livestock committees (you must submit an educational verification form).

Sessions will be held on Jan. 14, Feb. 11, March 11, Apr. 8 and May 13. Contact extension youth livestock specialist Bernie O'Rourke for additional info at 608-263-4304 or


Tauchen to chair state ag committee

Shawano County dairy farmers and legislator Gary Tauchen will continue to serve as chairman of the state Assembly's ag committee.  The Assemblyman was appointed by Speaker Robin Vos. He was first appointed to the committee in 2011 and has headed the group for the past two years.

According to a news release, Tauchen runs a dairy farm near Bonduel with his brothers and is active in the Wisconsin Farm Bureau.


Samuelson recognized by state lawmakers

He's served as the voice of Wisconsin agriculture since he first signed onto the airwaves more than 60 years ago. With his retirement eminent, La Crosse native Orien Samuelson is receiving accolades for his many years of service to the ag industry.

The radio broadcaster was honored by the state Legislature during an online presentation where he received a citation from Reps. Nancy VanderMeer, Sen. Patrick Testin and Rep. Loren Oldenburg.

One of America's longest running farm broadcasters has been recognized by members of the Wisconsin State Legislature for his many years of service and dedication to those serving the agriculture industry. Orion Samuelson was presented virtually with a legislative citation by Reps. Loren Oldenburg of Viroqua; Nancy VanderMeer of Tomah; and Sen. Patrick Testin of Stevens Point.

His voice is associated with "The National Barn Dance" and the "Noon Show" which aired from 1960 to 2003. According to archives, Samuelson is noted for being the sole broadcaster to be awarded two Oscars in agriculture. He was also inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2003.


Brazil slaps 20% tariff on US ethanol imports

With negotiations between the United States and Brazil breaking down, U.S. ethanol producers now face a 20% import tariff when sending product to Brazil.

Since May, U.S. exports to Brazil fell to less than 4 million gallons. Conversely, Brazil has exported about 96 million gallons of fuel ethanol to the U.S., according to a DTN report.

Agriculture and biofuels groups said in a press statement on Wednesday that a 20% tariff will only "further imbalance trade between the two countries."


Tennessee ag developing rapid field tests for livestock diseases

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture has received a $250,000 grant to develop rapid field tests for Senecavirus A and the foot-and-mouth disease virus, two of the most highly contagious diseases among livestock populations.

Heading the project is C. E. Kord Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory, which is working with Vanderbilt University. Current testing standards require that samples must be taken to labs, with results potentially days away. Now, there it may be possible to have results in minutes, which will help producers and veterinarians be able to act faster and treat the disease.

The tests are being developed primarily for hogs, but could be transferable to other types of livestock. The department said a prototype could be ready within three years.


Iowa Supreme Court hears arguments on water pollution attributed to farmers

The Iowa Supreme Court heard arguments Dec. 16 made by Iowa Citizens For Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch, plaintiffs in the case, who are suing the state of Iowa for neglecting Iowans' rights to clean water under the "public trust doctrine."

The groups claim that "unlimited expansion" of hog and crop farms are causing the Raccoon River to be polluted with nitrates and bacteria from manure and fertilizer runoff. The river is the main source of drinking water for 500,000 people.

Iowa Solicitor General Jeff Thompson said he wants the case to be dismissed since this issue is up to the state legislature to decide, not the courts. If the lawsuit is not dismissed, it will ask for mandatory limits on nitrogen and phosphorus pollution as well as moratoriums on hog concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).


New coronavirus relief bill to include $13 billion for farmers, more PPP aid

An Associated Press report said the new $900 billion coronavirus deal to be approved by Congress will include $13 billion for farmers and ranchers.

It's unclear yet how the money will be paid out if the bill is passed. $13 billion is also being spent equally on funding to food banks and other food insecurity programs, like Meals on Wheels and Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

The bill will also include $284 billion in funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, for which loans are forgivable if certain requirements are met. The program is intended to help small businesses survive amid the economic devastation caused by the pandemic.


Oregon to limit pesticide on Christmas trees

The Oregon Dept. of Ag says it will begin to limit the use of chlorpyrifos and ultimately phase out nearly all its use by 2023.

The agency's decision, announced Tuesday, followed extensive research and input from an advisory workgroup that included leaders and industry experts ranging from agriculture, environmental justice groups, toxicologists, and a farmworker health and safety organization, according to the Statemans Journal.

Chlorpyrifos is a pesticide mainly used in Oregon on Christmas trees, leafy greens crops and alfalfa. Its use has been linked to harmful effects on the human body.


Gatesville man arrested for cattle theft

A 40-year-old Gatesville man was arrested Saturday for selling 46 head of a former client’s cattle, worth $50,000. Christopher D. Cockrell began running cattle for the victim, a Bangs man, in the spring of 2016.

Over time, the victim grew suspicious. He demanded Cockrell gather and sell his cattle for him and terminate their business relationship. Cockrell never gathered the cattle.

According to the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, the victim contacted TSCRA Special Ranger Marvin Wills. Cockrell subsequently confessed to selling the victim’s cattle by private treaty and keeping the proceeds.