Ag Briefs: Bill Gates owns most farmland in U.S.

Wisconsin State Farmer
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Bronaugh tapped as Vilsack's 2nd in command

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday nominated Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Jewel Bronaugh as deputy secretary of USDA.

Jewel Bronaugh

According to Progressive Farmer, Bronaugh, who holds a doctorate in career and technical education from Virginia Tech University, brings to USDA an extensive career working with Extension programs and had served as a 4-H Extension specialist as well.

If confirmed, Bronaugh would serve as Vilsack's second in command at USDA in the Biden administration. Bronaugh would also be the first Black woman to serve as USDA deputy secretary.


Butterball investing $8.7M in two Arkansas processing facilities

Butterball is investing $8.7 million to expand two turkey processing plants in Northwest Arkansas.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that the company, a big seller of toms during the holidays, said the investment will create a total of 360 jobs in the next three years.

"We are proud to continue to be vital contributors to and key supporters of the local communities in which we operate and we're grateful for the hardworking people of Arkansas," Butterball President and Chief Executive Jay Jandrain said in a written statement.

The company plans to spend $4.7 million on a facility in Ozark and $4 million at its Huntsville location. 


Bill Gates top private farmland owner in US

Bill Gates, the fourth richest person in the world, currently owns 242,000 acres of farmland, making him the top private farmland owner in America, according to Forbes.

The Land Report revealed that Gates, who has a net worth of nearly $121 billion according to Forbes, has built up a massive farmland portfolio spanning 18 states. His largest holdings are in Louisiana (69,071 acres), Arkansas (47,927 acres) and Nebraska (20,588 acres).

According to The Land Report’s research, the land is held directly and through third-party entities by Cascade Investments, Gates’ personal investment vehicle. Cascade’s other investments include food-safety company Ecolab, used-car retailer Vroom and Canadian National Railway. 

It is not entirely clear how Gates’ farmland is being used, or whether any of the land is being set aside for conservation, Forbes reported.


USDA invests over $11M to control destructive feral swine

The USDA is investing $11.65 million in 14 projects to help agricultural producers and private landowners trap and control feral swine as part of the Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program. This investment expands the pilot program to new projects in Alabama, Hawaii, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.

The awards enable landowners to address the threat that feral swine pose to natural resources and agriculture, USDA officials reported.

These new pilot projects and areas were selected in coordination with NRCS state conservationists, APHIS state directors and state technical committees to address feral swine issues and damage in areas with high densities.

Projects are planned to conclude at the end of September 2023.


DNR board to consider mining fee increases

The state Department of Natural Resources' policy board is expected to reconsider a plan to dramatically increase mining fees in Wisconsin.

The new rules would increase fees and costs for nonferrous mining operations by about $502,000 per project. They also would require companies to supply more detailed feasibility and construction plans to the department and establish new list of areas off-limits to mining, including wilderness areas designated by statute; wild and scenic rivers; wildlife refuges; state natural areas; and areas with endangered animals or plants, according to an Associated Press report.

DNR officials say the changes are needed to comply with a 2017 law that reworked nonferrous mining permit standards. They added that Wisconsin's mining rules haven't undergone major revisions to reflect statutory changes since 1982. 

Nonferrous mining refers to mining for minerals other than iron, such as copper, gold and silver. The DNR has approved only one new nonferrous mine over the past 40 years. 

Sauk Prairie, WI

Bald Eagle Watching Days are virtual for 2021

Sauk Prairie's Bald Eagle Watching Days, Wisconsin’s longest-running bald eagle watching extravaganza, is going virtual for 2021! Virtual events include the release of a rehabilitated bald eagle back into the wild; nose-to-beak learning with education eagles and other raptors; "Eagles In Native American Culture"; and live reports on eagle viewing spots along the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway along with a new self-guided tour directing you to them.

These and other events and presentations are recorded in advance or presented live and streamed over the Internet on Jan. 23 and Feb. 6, 20. Watch all programming via 

Virtual participants are invited to ask questions of the presenters. Programs will be archived for later viewing but some events are available for a limited period. 

In addition, a self-guided tour, accessed through, will help you view eagles along the Lower Wisconsin River on your own in a COVID-safe manner.


ND producers warned about drought persisting

North Dakota producers need to be prepared in case drought conditions persist into 2021, according to North Dakota State University Extension specialists.

Most of the Dakotas, northern Minnesota and eastern Montana suffered from some level of drought last year. As of Jan. 14, all of North Dakota was impacted by dry conditions, with 23% of the state in moderate and 62% of the state in severe drought.

The 2020 drought affected forage production on pastureland and hay land.

North Dakota went into fall 2020 with precipitation in most of the state at 35% to 150% below normal. Thus, the 2021 growing season will start with very little moisture in the topsoil and little to no subsoil moisture.

“If the drought extends into the 2021 growing season, expect a severe loss in forage production,” Kevin Sedivec, NDSU Extension rangeland management specialist said in a news release. “We recommend that ranchers and farmers put together a drought management plan early so they are prepared if drought persists.”


First woman to chair state Ag Committee passes

A staunch supporter of Wisconsin farmers and the ag industry has died at the age of 89.

Serving in the state legislature for 26, Barbara "Bobby" Gronemus of Whitehall died on Sunday, January 17, 2021. Gronemus represented the 91st District in the State Assembly.

According to her obituary, the Democrat championed rural issues and was known for her advocacy in spotlighting the issue of stray voltage.


EU agency says worms safe to eat

The vaunted Mediterranean diet and the French "bon gout" are getting some competition: The European Union's food safety agency says worms are safe to eat.

The Associated Press reported that the Parma-based agency published a scientific opinion last week on the safety of dried yellow mealworms and gave them a thumbs up. Researchers said the worms, either eaten whole or in powdered form, are a protein-rich snack or ingredient for other foods.

Allergic reactions may occur, especially depending on the type of feed given to the bugs, known officially as Tenebrio molitor larva. But overall "the panel concludes that the (novel food) is safe under the proposed uses and use levels."


Wisconsin Agribusiness Classic closes out 60th year online

The 2021 Wisconsin Agribusiness Classic has finished its 60th anniversary – virtually. It is normally held at Alliant Energy Center in Madison, but was moved online due to COVID-19.

The four-day event offered 25 Certified Crop Advisor continuing education credits as well as an interactive trade show in partnership with UW-Madison Extension. Guests included Gov. Tony Evers, 73rd Alice in Dairyland Julia Nunes, UW System interim president Tommy Thompson, DATCP secretary Randy Romanski, Wisconsin FFA president Joe Schlies and USDA Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney.

Many awards and scholarships were also given and new board members elected. The Wisconsin Agribusiness Association also announced the launch of a new webinar series held on the third Wednesday of each month that will provide agribusiness industry updates at no cost.

TOKYO, Japan

Nearly 6 million bird culled due to bird flu

According to the NHK World Japan, the broadcaster reported that Japan has culled a record 5.8 million chickens since November 2020 and that the highly pathogenic variant of bird flu has been detected at 36 poultry farms in 15 prefectures across the country since November.

The previous record dates back to the 2005-2006 season when 5.7 million chickens were culled because of the disease.

The total number of exterminated birds is expected to reach six million once the culling is over.


Nestlé recalls 762,000 lbs. of Hot Pockets

Nestlé Prepared Foods is recalling more than 762,000 pounds of pepperoni Hot Pockets, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service said.

The frozen stuffed sandwiches — shipped to retail stores nationwide — are being recalled because they "may be contaminated with extraneous materials, specifically pieces of glass and hard plastic," the USDA said Friday.

The problem was discovered when the company received four consumer complaints of extraneous material in pepperoni Hot Pockets, the department said. The company has received one report of a "minor oral injury" associated with consumption of the product, the USDA said.

The recall is for 54-ounce packages containing 12 "Nestlé Hot Pockets Brand Sandwiches: Premium Pepperoni made with pork, chicken and beef pizza garlic buttery crust." Affected boxes have a "Best before Feb 2022" date and lot codes of 0318544624, 0319544614, 0320544614 and 0321544614, the department said.


Ag industry wants farmworkers prioritized for vaccinations

The agriculture industry is asking Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee to move migrant farmworkers and food factory workers closer to the front of the line for the coronavirus vaccine because they perform work that cannot be delayed or performed remotely.

A letter sent Thursday to Inslee and signed by the heads of 14 agriculture trade groups said vaccinations offer the greatest hope for reducing COVID-19 risk among food and agricultural workers and their families, the Associated Press reported.

Separately, Jon DeVaney of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association in Yakima said it makes more sense to treat the agricultural workers as a single group and not divide them by age because a large percentage are migrant workers from other states and temporary foreign workers. 

Washington state is a major producer of apples, cherries, hops, potatoes, wheat, berries and other crops. It also has a large food-processing sector that converts those crops into finished products. 


Holstein Association USA announces contest winners

Two Wisconsin teens are among a group of Junior Holstein Association members who placed among the top 3 in a trio of divisions in the inaugural Virtual Interview Contest sponsored by Holstein Association.

This program is designed to prepare youth for real world opportunities, giving them the chance to sharpen their resume writing and interview skills.

Placing first in the Intermediate Division (ages 15-17 as of January 1) was Brianna Meyer of Wisconsin followed by runner-up Courtney Glenna, also of Wisconsin.

Applicants submitted cover letters and resumes based on a mock interview scenario and were selected to move on to the second phase of the contest based on their combined cover letter and resume scores.

Youth members completed a virtual interview with a panel of three judges during the second phase. Final scores were calculated based on each applicant’s cover letter, resume, and interview. All youth received feedback from the judges to help further prepare them for future interviews.

Cash prizes of $250 for first place, $100 for second place, and $50 for third place were awarded in the junior and intermediate divisions, while top place winners in the senior division were awarded cash prizes of $500 for first place, $250 for second place, and $100 for third place.


Chinese city reports coronavirus found on ice cream

The coronavirus was found on ice cream produced in eastern China, prompting a recall of cartons from the same batch, according to the government.

Associated Press reported that the Daqiaodao Food Co., Ltd. in Tianjin, adjacent to Beijing, was sealed and its employees were being tested for the coronavirus, a city government statement said. There was no indication anyone had contracted the virus from the ice cream. 

Most of the 29,000 cartons in the batch had yet to be sold, the government said. It said 390 sold in Tianjin were being tracked down and authorities elsewhere were notified of sales to their areas.

The ingredients included New Zealand milk powder and whey powder from Ukraine, the government said.

The Chinese government has suggested the disease, first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, came from abroad and has highlighted what it says are discoveries of the coronavirus on imported fish and other food, though foreign scientists are skeptical.


Company recalls contaminated milk given to children

Oklahoma schools are advising people to throw away milk products received from districts last week after a dairy company recalled its chocolate milk because some of it may have been contaminated. 

Hiland Dairy is recalling 4,800 cases of its one-half pint 1% low fat chocolate milk made at the Norman, Oklahoma, plant because some of that milk may contain food-grade sanitizers, which can make people sick if consumed, the Associated Press reported. 

SSM Heath St. Anthony Hospital reported examining 50 children who were sick after drinking the milk and 28 were brought to Oklahoma Children's Hospital to be evaluated and monitored.

Edmond Public Schools and Oklahoma City Public Schools urged families to discard milk products distributed last week at schools. 

"OKCPS School Nutrition Service is completing an audit of our Hiland Dairy products at all schools to determine if we received any of the recalled products," the district said in a statement. "OKCPS will properly discard any recalled products to ensure it's not served in cafeterias or at our drive-thru locations."

Hiland Dairy said it's working with the Food and Drug Administration on handling the contaminated products. 


Fire destroys St. Clair County meat plant

Officials are sifting through the ashes to determine the cause of a fire earlier this month that destroyed the Deli Star Corporation’s meat plant.

Nearly 14 fire departments battled the blaze that used approximately two-thirds of the water in the nearby water tower.

Deli Star employs 130 people. There were six people inside when the fire started but they all got out safely, according to Fox2Now.

Officials at the Deli Star Corporation said the company plans to rebuild.


Governor orders a, natural resource department merger

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Tuesday issued an executive order to merge two departments overseeing the state's agriculture industry and natural resources.

The Republican governor's order created the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources that she billed as a "one-stop" shop for farmers and ranchers that would save the state about $450,000 by eliminating five positions. While the influential South Dakota Farm Bureau praised the move, other farmers' groups focused on conservation opposed the merger, saying it impacted the protection of resources including water, oil and soil.

Noem's move is a continuation of efforts she calls a "streamlining" of the government's oversight of the agriculture industry. She announced the merger in August, a move which caught farmers unaware. As the state's farm groups digested the repercussions of the merger, they split in supporting the idea. 

"We think there are efficiencies to be gained," said Scott VanderWal, the Farm Bureau president, adding that the merger would help farmers from getting caught between two departments.

But other groups, including the South Dakota Farmers Union and Dakota Rural Action, a conservation group, came out in opposition.

"Being a jack of all trades is not always a good answer when it comes to protecting human health and natural resources," said Doug Sombke, the president of the Farmers Union.

He said Roberts, the current Secretary, would do well leading the department, but pointed out that the job of leading a department that both oversees the state's largest industry and regulates its natural resources was a mammoth task.

Dakota Rural Action is pressing lawmakers to sponsor a resolution to block the merger, but to pass it would require a significant number of Republicans, who hold super-majorities in both chambers, to defy the governor.