2021: Another pandemic year in review

Wisconsin State Farmer

At this time last year, farmers felt sure that 2021 had to be better than than 2020, a year that the coronavirus pandemic rocked markets and the supply chain. But as we stand on the threshold of a new year, the second anniversary of the pandemic is fast approaching and we can’t help but wonder how it will impact our industry in 2022.

Thanks to a successful growing season and healthy commodity prices, farmers were able to emerge from a difficult year. Government aid payments also comprised a considerable portion of their net income.

While farmers are still dealing with the fallout from the pandemic, inflation now appears to be a major threat to profitability in the ag sector. That combined with continued supply chain issues, labor shortages, the rising cost of inputs, farmers are bracing themselves for a bumpy ride in the coming year.

Here are the news stories that shaped the local, state and national landscape in the agricultural industry in 2021.

A workers uses a band saw to cut meat Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, at Sailer's Food Market and Meat Processing in Elmwood, Wis.,  Many local meat plants say the meat processing bottleneck is ongoing due to increased consumer demand.


  • Kevin Krentz re-elected president of the Wisconsin Farm  Bureau Federation
  • Financial pressures, long hours, labor shortages, harsh weather — these are all conditions that farmers and their advocates say are escalating stress and depression among Wisconsin's dairy farmers.
  • Meat processing bottleneck continues at local meat plants
  • Federal checks salvage otherwise dreadful 2020 for US farms
  • National farm broadcaster Orien Samuelson announces retirement after 60 year career
  • Demand for dairy products continues as pandemic continues
  • After years of tough prices, WI mink production fell 60% in 2020


  • Farm bankruptcy filings drop 7% in 2020
  • 2021 American Honey Queen Jennifer Hinkel hails from Wisconsin
  • Gov. Evers to allocate $43M in biennial budget to boost ag economy
  • DNR sets harvest of 22 wolves in state hunt thanks to court order
  • WI biologist Ryan Koenigs charged with lying about caviar scheme
  • One of the largest class action lawsuits filed on behalf of farmers to redress coordinated unlawful actions among several levels of crop input manufacturers and seller forcing farmers to pay inflated prices.
  • Sen. Tammy Baldwin appointed to Ag Appropriations subcommittee
  • US Senate approves Tom Vilsack as US Ag Secretary
Hunters exceed wolf hunt quota by 100 animals in less than 3 days.


  • Fueled by uncertainty surrounding future health regulations for Dane County, World Dairy Expo explores possibility of moving show site out of Madison.
  • Aggressive weed Palmer Amaranth threatens WI crop fields, corn/soybean yields.
  • USDA reveals that the number of US dairy operations continue to decline to just under 32,000 due to declining prices, pandemic fallout, negative PPD's and FMMO depooling.
  • Hunters exceed wolf hunt quota by 100 animals in less than 3 days
  • Nearly half of the continental U.S. is in a moderate to exceptional drought, government forecasters said Thursday, and conditions are expected to grow more severe and persistent over the next three months.
  • Dane Co. offers WDE contract extension to keep show in Madison for the next 10 years. Deal also compensates show for economic losses due to pandemic.
  • Merger between Landmark and Countryside cooperatives approved.
  • Home bakers launch second lawsuit against WI DATCP, say agency narrowly interpreted ruling.


  • USDA days mystery seed packages originating from China likely part of "brushing scam" and not harmful seeds.
  • Federal judge throws out rule allowing pork plants to speed up production lines because USDA didn't properly consider risk to workers.
  • WI State Supreme Court hears arguments on whether laws GOP passed in 2011 limiting agency's power trumps DNR's authority to protect WI waters.
  • 15 year old Holstein from Lancaster, WI sets new record for most lifetime milk production by Holstein completed in 2020 totaling 460,720 lbs.
  • US Sen. Baldwin reintroduces Dairy Pride Act which combats unfair practice of mislabeling non-dairy products using dairy terms.
  • Several dairy groups including DBA and Edge band together to propose new milk pricing plan which ties Class I milk prices to Class III prices.
Several dairy groups including DBA and Edge band together to propose new milk pricing plan which ties Class I milk prices to Class III prices.


  • Veterinarian experts say Midwest states suffering from shortages of veterinarian professionals in rural communities. 
  • Gov. Evers announces $100M to expand broadband via federal coronavirus funding.
  • Farmers see favorable start to this year's growing season.
  • Weighed down by crushing student debt and grueling work schedules, veterinarians are committing suicide in alarming numbers.
  • Checkoff scientists at Taco Bell’s headquarters helped the chain launch the Mtn Dew Baja Blast Colada Freeze, which features a dairy-based creamer. The team also helped Taco Bell relaunch the Quesalupa, which uses seven times more cheese than the chain’s regular taco.
  • Federal appeals court tells EPA to ban pesticide chlorpyrifos or decide if its safe.
  • White farmers in four Midwestern state, including Wisconsin, sue the Biden administration over debt relief for farmers of color.


  • Two  ballot initiatives moving through the Legislature in Oregon and Colorado would pose major threats to the livestock industry in those states and across the nation. Per the measure, AI would be considered sexual assault and ban slaughter of animals before they achieve one-quarter of their lifespan.
  • More than 25% of workers at Seneca Foods in Gillett, Wis., test positive for coronavirus. Investigators say plant failed to take critical measures to protect workers.
  • Jeff Hicken, Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources Education Coordinator and state FFA Advisor with the DPI passes away at age 47.
  • The southeast and western parts of Wisconsin experience severe drought conditions.
  • State sees 40% drop in hemp grower and processor applications. Officials cite changes in way govt. regulates crop may be to blame.
  • UW Platteville to begin developing Dairy Pilot Plant at Pioneer Farm that will focus on dairy food science and product innovation.
  • State Assembly passes bill restricting food labeling where vegan or vegetarian food in WI not be labeled as meat, milk or dairy if they don't contain these products..
  • JBS says most meat plants back online after five days following a cyberattack.
More than 25% of workers at Seneca Foods in Gillett, Wis., test positive for coronavirus. Investigators say plant failed to take critical measures to protect workers.


  • US Trade Representative Katherine Tai tours western WI dairy farms as farm groups press for more trade opportunities.
  • Former WFBF President Howard "Dan" Poulson dies.
  • Farm Technology Days committee says Eau Claire show attendance of 52,000 was best in the past decade.
  • Due to supply shortages, transportation and weather issues, fertilizer costs begin to climb.
  • As potential tax changes loom, farmers worry about next generation being able to stay on family farms.
  • New federal funding could help local and regional meat processors capitalize on increased demand from pandemic.
  • As president, Ben Styer leads all female slate of officers on WIsconsin state FFA team.
  • Federal appeals court throws out Trump-era EPA rule change that allowed for the sale of 15% ethanol gas blend in summer months.
  • Dairy trade dispute with Canada limiting sales continues to be hot button topic.
  • Wisconsin mink farms working to vaccinate animals against COVID.
  • A proposition that would make Colby the official state cheese is introduced in the Assembly.
  • USDA unveils $500M plan to help build small meat processing plants.
  • WI Supreme Court rules environmental regulators can consider the effects of surrounding areas when issuing water and wastewater permission to dairy farms and businesses.


  • Residents living in the Driftless area in Wisconsin push back against 7000 hog CAFO operation citing water quality issues.
  • Proposed Outagamie fertilizer blending plant draws citizen opposition.
  • Dairy producers to share in $2B "Pandemic Market Volatility" aid package.
  • Pork producers on alert as ASF detected in swine herd in Dominican Republic.  
  • Pork producers say they cannot make changes in time ahead of California's animal welfare proposition. State may lose supply of pork products as a result.
  • Gov. Evers announces additional $50M in direct payments to farmers to help recover from pandemic.
  • Drought in western US and increased water demand results in first ever water cuts, that especially impact farmers.
  • USDA NASS shows producers spent 14% less on labor and more on machinery during pandemic.
Residents of the small community of Cambridge are voicing their opposition to the 300-megawatt solar farm known as the Koshkonong Solar Center. If constructed, it would be the largest renewable energy facility in the state and the first of its kind in Dane County


  • Manufacturers will have to get over high hurdles before farmers will switch from diesel to electric power, especially for large ag machinery.
  • Farmers express frustration as FDA offices miss July DMC payments this month. FSA officials claim computer glitch cause for delay.
  • Residents of Cambridge, Wis., oppose 300 mega watt solar farm Koshkonong Solar Center.
  • Six Native American tribes along with wildlife groups sue state of Wisconsin to stop November planned wolf hunt.
  • World Dairy Expo back at Madison following year hiatus.
  • Iowa cooperative hit by ransomware just as harvest shifts into high gear.
  • Invasive lantern fly from China found in Indiana.
  • Uncertainty looms as judge vacates Trump WOTUS rule.
  • Kate Vander Bosch announces retirement from her position as WI Madison CALS dean in 2022.
Port congestion on the West Coast threatens ag exports.


  • 10,100, or 13% of the John Deere workforce, goes on strike.
  • Wolf hunt on hold after Dane Co. judge issues temporary injunction.
  • Port congestion on the West Coast threatens ag exports.
  • John Deere threatens to shift work overseas as strike continues.
  • Nancy Kissel of Sheboygan is named to National 4-H Hall of Fame.
  • Sally Albers Ladsten succeeds the late Jeff Hicken at the WI DPI.
  • Schreiber Foods of Green Bay victimized by hackers demanding a rumored $2.5M to unlock computer system that impacted dairy plants and distribution centers.
  • Implementing stricter fertilizer restrictions for WI farms in sensitive environmental areas could cost farmers millions.
  • Agropur to invest $165M in cheese plant expansion near Appleton.
  • Cheese export market expected to finish out strong this year despite pandemic.
  • Fact check debunks rumor that the $3.5T infrastructure package includes animal ag tax on dairy cows at $$2.6-$6.5K per head.
  • Culvers Curderburger sold on Oct. 15 a hit with customers, sells out at many outlets.
  • Bottle shortage prompts Kwik Trip locations to temporarily decrease flavored milk choices.
  • Port Milwaukee, DeLong Co. break ground on new ag export facilities.
  • Manitowoc Co. Dairy judging team wins fourth straight National 4-H Dairy Judging contest.
Striking John Deere employees approve contract that provides immediate 10% increase in hourly wages, increased retirement benefits and continued insurance plan requiring no employee premium.


  • Striking John Deere employees approve contract that provides immediate 10% increase in hourly wages, increased retirement benefits and continued insurance plan requiring no employee premium.
  • Unprecedented rainfall causes extensive flooding in Northwest US and British Columbia, thousands of animals die in rising waters.
  • Growers say fresh cranberries will be in short supply this Thanksgiving.
  • AFBF says due to rising prices off food ingredients, Thanksgiving Day dinner will cost 17.25% more this year.
  • Saputo Cheese says it will build a new facility in Franklin, Wis.
  • DNR abandons groundwater rulemaking for nitrates, citing timeline challenges.
  • Cortney Zimmerman elected to 2021-22 National FFA officer team.


  • Gov. Evers to invest $30M in funding to food pantries.
  • Update to DMC to provide an additional $47.4M for WI dairy producers
  • U.S. Labor Department announces 6.2% rise in Consumer Price Index
  • This year 78.5% of the state's dairy producers signed up for the Dairy Margin Coverage program and received substantial payments in 2021.
  • Bill could require animal-drawn vehicles in WI to be registered.
  • Retail meat prices experience 33% hike.
  • Gov. Evers signs ag export bill to help increase value of milk and dairy exports.
  • Pickup driver slams into Amish buggy in Taylor Co. carrying 10 people resulting in multiple injuries to children and death of mother.
  • Farmers pay top prices for used farm machinery/equipment opting for immediate possession as as newer machinery harder to find and more costly.
  • Fertilizer prices soar to record highs, driving up input costs.
  • Survey of Midwest bankers say WI farmland worth 10% more than in 2020.