State News: Dairy Struggles, Kimberly-Clark, Commercial Fishing

Record-Breaking Loss of Dairy Farms in 2018

Wisconsin lost 638 dairy farms in 2018, according to the latest data from the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. That’s a 7.25 percent decline in the number of registered dairy herds, the biggest drop since records started in 2004.

Bob Cropp, professor emeritus of agricultural and applied economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Wisconsin’s dairy farmers have had it tough.

“We’ve gone through four years of very disturbing low milk prices for dairy farmers and it’s finally taken a hold,” Cropp said. “It’s not only occurring in Wisconsin. We’re getting reports from some other states like Iowa and others that are telling the same thing.”

Cropp said 2018 will likely have the lowest average milk price since the market fell in 2015.

Shelly Mayer, executive director of Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, said the decline in farms has an impact on more than just the agriculture industry.

“That has an impact on the whole community around you,” Mayer said. “Your local feed mill, your accountant, the people you buy gas from and where you’re spending your dollar in your community, there are fewer dollars so other businesses feel the impact as well.”

Mayer said part of the decline is likely from natural retirements and consolidation within the industry.


Leaders Praise Kimberly-Clark Deal

Government and business leaders in the Fox Valley are pleased Gov. Scott Walker signed an agreement with Kimberly-Clark Corp. to keep its northeastern Wisconsin plant open and potentially expand it.

Peter Thillman, vice president of economic development with the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce, said the loss of 388 well-paying jobs would have had a statewide impact.

A recent report showed the Kimberly-Clark closure would have drained $100 million out of the four counties surrounding the plant over five years when it came to lost wages and taxes.

In early 2018, Kimberly-Clark announced it was considering the closure of the Cold Spring plant, which makes products like Depends and Poise.

The deal reached between Walker, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and the consumer products giant is worth up to $28 million the next five years and will keep the Cold Spring plant in Fox Crossing near Neenah open and save nearly 400 jobs.

If the plant shuttered, “it would have been a large, large loss,” Thillman said. “These are incredibly important jobs, very high tech, very high skilled and well compensated. This is a really state-of-the-art facility and we’re glad it is expanding.”

The gain in Wisconsin will come at the cost of about 350 jobs at a Kimberly-Clark plant in Conway, Ark., that is set to close.

The Winnebago County Executive, Mark Harris, joined the praise for the state-funded deal, but said, “You have to ask yourself where is this money coming from?”


Mercury Rising

University of Wisconsin researchers say the Earth’s climate could warm to temperatures seen up to 50 million years ago.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests greenhouse gas emissions could reverse millions of years of global cooling in less than two centuries if left unchecked.

The study evaluated a range of outcomes based on projections for future climate that were used in a report released in October by a United Nations panel on climate change. Researchers examined what the Earth’s climate may look like with greenhouse gas emissions around 550 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 2100. The world has already surpassed 400 parts per million.

By 2030 or 2040, Earth’s climate could feel much like it did 3 million years ago during the Pliocene period.

The study’s lead author Kevin Burke, a PhD candidate with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW-Madison, said global surface temperatures were about 2 to 4 degrees Celsius (roughly 3 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than now at that time.

“We would expect to see reduced ice cover, the loss of major ice sheets in places like Greenland and a secondary effect of that would be rising seas levels,” Burke said.

During the Pliocene period, the world saw sea levels at least 60 feet higher than now, which could spell changes for coastlines in the future.


Board Reluctantly Passes Lake Superior Fishing Rule

The state Natural Resources Board approved an emergency rule for commercial fishing on Lake Superior during a Dec. 12 meeting.

The rule puts in practice an agreement between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Red Cliff and Bad River Bands of Lake Superior Chippewa. The groups have been working for almost four years to reach a new contract after the previous 10-year agreement expired in 2015.

“We weren’t bound by the previous agreement. The parties really wanted to start fresh, so it’s not like we were just revising the previous agreement,” said Scott Loomans, fisheries management policy specialist for the DNR.

Little information has been released about the new agreement and Loomans said much of the negotiation process was confidential.

Based on the changes approved in the emergency rule, the new agreement maintains the current quota for lake trout but reallocates where commercial fisherman can harvest them.

The contract also opens up a new October season for commercial fishing of whitefish for a period of five years.

During a lengthy discussion, several board members expressed concern about fishing during the whitefish spawning season.

But Loomans said it was an important concession to the tribes.

Fred Prehn, vice chair of the Natural Resources Board, said he didn’t think the DNR considered the needs of recreational fishermen enough when negotiating the new contract. But he still proposed the motion to approve the emergency rule.

“I do not believe that the agreement is in the best interest of the sports fishermen of Wisconsin,” Prehn said. “But all that said and the dust settles, we have a responsibility to move forward with the restraints that we have with the contractual obligations that the department’s already signed.”


85 Percent of Foxconn Land Acquired

One of Racine County’s largest property owners is selling about 10 acres of land to the Village of Mount Pleasant for the Foxconn Technology Group development.

Borzynski Brothers Properties’ land is the latest acquisition of properties by the village for the massive project. The village is paying the Borzynski family $3.6 million for the land.

“This is at Highway KR and one of (Borzynski’s) main operations for corn,” said Claude Lois, the project director for Foxconn in Mount Pleasant.

For three generations, the Borzynski family has owned more than 7,000 acres of farmland in four states.

Stefanie Meiri Borzynski did not want to comment on the sale. With the Borzynski purchase, Mount Pleasant has close to 85 percent of the land that needs to be acquired for the Foxconn project, Lois said. “We only have three or four parcels left to acquire.”

Foxconn is paying for the land through a $75 million special assessment included in a tax increment financing (TIF) district. A year ago, the Taiwanese tech giant also deposited $60 million into a village account for land acquisition.

Foxconn is planning to build a $10 billion manufacturing campus that is expected to create 13,000 jobs. The special assessment payments will be made on property tax bills over the next 10 years.

Earlier this week, Foxconn affiliates purchased buildings in Green Bay and Eau Claire totaling nearly $12 million, according to state records.

Foxconn is planning to open innovation hubs in both cities.


Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2018, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

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