Ag Briefs: Farm hires down in 2020

Wisconsin State Farmer
Midwest briefs


WI Legislature to vote on $500 million tax cut

The Wisconsin Legislature overwhelmingly approved a half-billion dollar tax cut for businesses that received loans to help them keep employees on the payroll during the pandemic, one of several measures related to the coronavirus that are slated for consideration.

The bill cutting business taxes by $540 million by the middle of 2023 was up for a vote in both the Senate and Assembly. It will head to to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers who was non-committal last week about whether he would sign or veto the measure.

The bill would benefit recipients of loans administered through the federal government's Paycheck Protection Program. The loans are already tax deductible under federal law and Republicans say they are simply trying to bring state tax code into compliance. But Democratic opponents said the move would blow a hole in the state budget.


Livestock Lessons winners listed

Winners of the first round of Livestock Lessons were recently announced. Livestock Lessons is a new animal science experience for Wisconsin youth sponsored by University of Wisconsin Division of Extension.

The program is an opportunity for youth in animal science projects  in grades 3-13 to share their learning with others and to teach others about animal sciences. 

Winners are: Grades 3-5 (video) Caleb Formo, Iowa County, 1; Morgan Anderson, Polk County, 2; MaKieyela Raisler, Waupaca County, 3. PSA: Morgan Anderson, Polk County, 1; MaKieyela Raisler, Waupaca County, 2.

Grades 6-8 (video) Alison Gartman, Sheboygan County. Grades 9-12 (video) Vivian Stephenson, Vernon County, 1; Maggie and Abby Stalbaum, Columbia County, 2; Elizabeth Colwell – Juneau County, 3. PSA - Stephenson, 1; Erin Lancaster, Barron County, 2. 

Entries for Livestock Lessons Round 2 due March 5, 2021. For more information visit


Farm hires down in 2020

The number of workers hired directly by farms in the Lake Region (Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) during the reference week of July 12-18, 2020, was down 12% at that time during the previous week, according to the latest USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service – Farm Labor Report.

Farm operators paid their hired workers an average wage rate of $15.24/hr., up 19 cents from July 2019. The number of hours worked averaged 39.8 for hired workers during the reference week, compared with 40.5 hours during the July 2019 reference week.

This number fell even further during the reference week of October 11-17, 2020,down 16% from the previous year. The average wage, however, rose to $15.72/hr., up 8 cents from October 2019. The number of hours worked averaged 41.3 for hired workers during the reference week, up from 41.0 hours during the October 2019 reference week.


ITC: Imported blueberries not injuring U.S. producers

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled that imported blueberries aren’t causing substantial injury to U.S. producers.

In a news release, the agency stated that the commission will not recommend a remedy to the president.”

The top U.S. blueberry imports are from Canada, Chile, Mexico and Peru. Under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) agreement, both Canada and Mexico have the ability to immediately impose retaliatory duties equal to the amount imposed by the United States. 


10-15% of US corn crops refined in wet-milling facilities

The corn refining industry had a $47B impact in 2020, according to a new study released by the Corn Refiners Association. 

The economic impact of the corn wet-milling industry resulted in: $3.3B in state and federal taxes; 167,786 total jobs; $10B in total wages and $47B in total economic output.

The report underscored the essential role corn refiners play in nation's ag and economic value chain. Corn byproducts can be found in shampoo, wallpaper, laundry detergent, yogurt, pharmaceuticals, packaging, pasta, and more.

Annually, 10-15% of American corn farmers’ crops are refined in corn wet-milling facilities.


Hong Kong culls 3000 after ASF discovery

Hong Kong authorities ordered the culling of all 3,000 pigs in a herd after the African swine fever virus was discovered to be spreading for the first time in one of the city’s farms, according to Reuters.

The disease, which is harmless to humans, is very rare in Hong Kong. The last outbreak in 2019 was due to pigs that were imported from the mainland and resulted in the culling of 10,000 pigs.

The new outbreak was discovered on a farm in the rural Yuen Long area, in the north near the mainland China border. Officials say the virus was limited to the one farm and that the owner would be compensated.

Hong Kong has about 43 pig farms, accounting for 15% of its live pig supplies, according to a Feb. 5 report by the United States Department of Agriculture.


Sen. Marklein receives DBA's top honor 

The Dairy Business Association announced that state Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, is the organization’s Legislator of the Year.

DBA pointed to important legislation Marklein championed, including funding for the Dairy Innovation Hub; truth-in-labeling for milk, other dairy products and meat; and more capital access for rural businesses, including dairy processors.

“Senator Marklein has gone above and beyond to strengthen and promote Wisconsin’s dairy community. He recognized the importance of these issues and showed leadership in moving them forward,” DBA President Amy Penterman, who farms with her family in Thorp, said.

The association also announced DBA Legislative Excellence Award recipients for the 2019-20 session. The award recognizes legislators for ongoing support for farmers, processors and the broader dairy community.


Bayer’s third generation corn rootworm trait gains final approval

Bayer announced the receipt of the final safety certificate for import and food/feed use from China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs for the company’s third-generation corn rootworm trait (MON 87411).

This approval represents the final key authorization for commercial introduction of SmartStax® PRO Technology in the United States.

Bayer plans to conduct on-farm grower market development trials in 2021, while ramping up volume to meet grower needs for a U.S. commercial launch in 2022. Bayer also expects to have products to launch in Canada in 2023.


Senate to vote on Vilsack's Secretary of Ag confirmation

The Senate has scheduled a vote on Tom Vilsack’s nomination for Secretary of Agriculture on Feb. 23, 2021. 

In early February, the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved President Joe Biden's pick to lead USDA, the Farm Journal reported. During the hearing, the former USDA Secretary acknowledged he'd be returning to USDA in different times, and that he was a different man.

Vilsack laid out his priorities during the confirmation hearing in early February, including plans to tackle the COVID-19 recovery and his vision to address climate change. 

A coalition of 130 ag groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, sent a letter to the Senate Agriculture Committee in January calling for a swift nomination process.


Wastewater spills at ethanol plant blamed on pipe bursts

A frozen pipe has burst at a Nebraska ethanol plant that had been ordered to close a week ago, causing a wastewater spill, environmental officials say. 

The AltEn ethanol plant reported the accidental discharge early Friday at the facility near Mead, the Omaha World-Herald reports.

Personnel at an adjacent University of Nebraska-Lincoln agricultural research, extension and education center worked to contain the spill. And the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy said in a news release that it sent staff and was monitoring the situation. 

Associated Press reported that the spill is the latest problem at the AltEn facility, which was ordered to close because its wastewater lagoons were in danger of overflowing and contaminating nearby property and waterways. 

The state also ordered AltEn to dispose of its leftover grain by March 1, either by dumping it in a licensed landfill or incinerating it. The leftover grain can't be used as cattle feed because the facility uses seed corn, which is coated in pesticides and herbicides. 

It's been left in piles around the plant, and residents in the area complain that it smells.


Tyson shareholders reject proposals at annual meeting

At its annual meeting, Tyson Foods shareholders rejected three proposals that would have increased investor oversight of the company’s operations, according to the Food & Environment Reporting Network.

The Tyson family controls about 70 percent of the company’s voting rights because of its dual-class stock structure. The other two proposals sought greater human rights due diligence and more transparency for investors about the company’s political and lobbying activity.

During the meeting, speakers emphasized the importance of greater company oversight in the wake of the pandemic, during which more than 12,000 Tyson workers have contracted Covid-19 and at least 39 have died, according to FERN’s tracker.

Speaking about the need to reform the stock class structure, George Wong of the New York State Common Retirement Fund said that the unequal power between family and non-family investors has “insulated our company from having to answer for its failure to quickly address the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis.”


WI Jersey Spring Spectacular Show Set for spring

Forced to cancel the Wisconsin Jersey Spring Spectacular due to the pandemic, organizers of the show announced plan to host the show May 7-8 at the Vernon County Fairgrounds in Viroqua, Wis.

The show typically attracts nearly 500 attendees hailing from the Midwest and beyond.

Showmanship will be hold on Friday, May 7, with the cattle show commencing on Saturday, May 8.

Entry fees are $10 per head until April 23, $25 from April 24-30 and rising to $100 per animal on May 1 and beyond. The show will also feature a silent auction with proceeds directed to Wisconsin Junior Jersey Breeders Association activities and show costs. 

For more information contact Karla Peterson at 608-606-1818 or


Mexican avocado imports break U.S. records

Dallas-based Avocados From Mexico says a historic record of 277 million pounds of Mexican avocados were imported into the U.S. in the first four weeks of the year.

That volume represents a 19% increase compared with the same period in 2020, according to Farm Journal's The Packer.

From October to December, the U.S. market received an average of 49 million pounds per week, compared with an average of 46 million pounds per week in 2019 during the same time. 


New cherry tomato’s thicker skin promises improved yield

A new variety of cherry tomatoes from Cornell AgriTech provides improved yield and shelf-life while enhancing both visual and culinary appeal.

A cross between heirloom tomato varieties, Cherry Ember was developed by Phillip Griffiths, associate professor of horticulture. The new tomato is now on sale through Fruition Seeds, an organic seed company based in Naples, N.Y., according to a news release. 

Cherry Ember's thicker skin and meatier flesh help keep the fruit from cracking both in the field and after being harvested — even during high rainfall seasons, which pose problems for thinner skins.

Cherry Ember also gives growers something to look forward to as early as mid-July since it ripens just 65 days after being planted and continues to grow until the first frost.


Fall turkey harvest numbers, permit sales increase in 2020

Hunters registered 4,600 birds during the fall 2020 wild turkey season, a 21% increase compared to the 3,792 turkeys registered during the 2019 fall season, according to the Wisconsin DNR

In total, 81,710 harvest authorizations were issued for the 2020 fall season, an increase of 6,935 from 2019. Of the 81,710 harvest authorizations issued, 76,748 were awarded with a fall turkey license, and 4,962 were sold over-the-counter as bonus harvest authorizations. This fall, the department issued 271 more fall bonus harvest authorizations than in 2019.

The harvest success rate in 2020 was 5.6%, very close to the harvest success rate of 5.1% in 2019.