The lost dairy markets in the spring that nearly put 75 Wisconsin dairy farmers out of business and left low prices in their wake topped The Country Today’s annual Top 10 story list for 2017.
The Top 10 was created in a vote of The Country Today editorial staff members from a list of 13 potential candidates. The staff attempts to determine what the 10 most important or impactful stories were to the newspaper’s readers during the past year.
Here’s the list, as selected by the editorial staff, for 2017:
No. 1. Dozens of dairy farmers in Wisconsin and Minnesota found themselves in a tough spot after being dropped by their dairy processors last spring. Full to capacity, processors blamed having to cut farmers on the loss of markets due to restrictive Canadian trade policies. However, some in the industry pointed fingers at processors for failing to better manage supply and at farmers for too aggressively expanding herds, creating an industry awash in milk and low prices.
Bethany Storm from Blanchardville said where she lives, 95 percent of the soils are karst, which means there is less than 5 feet of topsoil on top of fractured bedrock.
“Last month my well tested positive for bacteria,” she said. “I had it tested a second time and it came back positive again. The well is 240 feet deep, cased to 169 feet, but there is a possibility there is a fissure going from the surface through a lateral run right to my well.
“There is a farm for sale across the road from me. It could end up being anything — hog, poultry, mink, goats, anything. I am asking you to please take into consideration my tiny town with small resources. Please think of my family that I want to keep out on the land.”
Kara O’Connor, government relations director for the Wisconsin Farmers Union, said she had a good discussion with Harsdorf about the work the DATCP and WFU are doing to help young farmers get a start in agriculture. But she said that work is made more challenging by the prospect of young farmers’ quality of life and property values diminishing because of the spillover effects of large livestock.
“I have a hard time saying the rural area is a great place to raise a family in some instances,” she said. “Mostly these are instances where the operations are simply too large for the site they’re on or too close to their neighbor.”
O’Connor said the DATCP Board “has an opportunity to remedy problems we know exist and that are becoming more and more obvious.”
O’Connor said she anticipated the rules would be reviewed by the board by December, since they were first discussed by the panel five months earlier.
“I think it would be a good goal for this body to set a timeline coming out of this meeting to move forward,” O’Connor said. “I encourage you to set a goal today of when this will come back to you.”
In a discussion later in the meeting with the board, Harsdorf said she didn’t have a timeframe for when the hearing draft would be coming to the panel for further review. She said she wanted to meet with stakeholder groups to get input before moving the rules forward.