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Twilight events focus on engaging local officials with agriculture

LANCASTER — Andy and Lyn Buttles’ families have been farming in Wisconsin since 1835, although not always in the same location. Their most recent farming move was in 1997, when they relocated to southwest Wisconsin from Racine County, where Andy grew up.

The urban environment was beginning to encroach on the countryside and the family had to make a choice — invest in the 60 or so cows they were milking near Waterford or find another place to carry on their farming tradition.

There is certainly more agriculture and a community centered around agriculture out here, explained Andy Buttles, who along with wife, Lyn, and their two daughters, welcomed about 50 guests to Stone-Front Farm in Grant County Aug. 29 for this year’s final ACE On-the-Farm Twilight Meeting, held in partnership by the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Towns Association and Wisconsin Counties Association.

According to Shelly Mayer, executive director of PDPW, the evening meetings, held at four dairy farms across the state, were the perfect opportunity to not only see what happens behind the scenes on a dairy farm, but to also hear from the farmer themselves and have an open discussion about goals and solutions that are important to rural communities.

A tour of the dairy farm included stops at the calf barns, cow barn, milking parlor and feed bunks — with members of the Buttles family and several of their employees helping lead those tours.

The Buttles came to Lancaster in 1997, starting with 60 cows and slowly growing to 1,200. The farm includes 1,800 tillable acres and 500-600 acres of pasture.

The majority of the cows are Holsteins, although there are some Jerseys and Brown Swiss in the mix, and they are milked three times a day in a relatively new parlor, built just four years ago to suit the farm’s growing needs.

Milk goes to the Rolling Hills Cooperative, where, depending on the day, it is made into cheese or yogurt at plants in Belmont, Muscoda or Platteville.

The farm employs about 30 people, most of them living within a seven-mile radius of the farm. The Buttles provide lunch each day for their employees and recognize the important role employment on their farm plays into the local economy.

Andy Buttles also takes pride in the top quality genetics produced at his farm — something that has been fun for him to explore. Cow comfort is also a top priority, as is finding good people to work on the farm as the business grows.

“The farm is going 24/7,” he said. “There is always something going on.”

Along with attendees from the surrounding community, the Twilight event also brought out several area legislators, including Senator Howard Marklein, Representative David Considine and secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Brad Pfaff, along with a handful of town and county officials from Grant and Iowa counties.

“We want to work hard to get county and town officials here,” said Jon Hochkammer, outreach manager for the Wisconsin Counties Association. “It’s a great opportunity to see what agriculture is.”

It’s not just about education anymore, he continued. It’s about building those relationships and building that trust, learning from each other that we can find solutions. Part of this discussion also included the need for more agriculture-involved legislators and officials as fewer and fewer that are elected to these positions have any connection to agriculture, especially Wisconsin’s dairy industry.

“Getting town officials in the same room as farmers is a great thing,” echoed Joe Ruth, an attorney for the Wisconsin Towns Association.

There are about 1,250 towns in Wisconsin, with many of those towns needing representation, especially in the areas of infrastructure and rural roads. Ruth shared that about 55% of the road mileage in Wisconsin is credited to rural roads; however, only about 5% of the Department of Transportation’s budget directly funds rural roads.

“Attend county and town meetings to make sure your local officials hear your concerns,” Ruth added.

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DNR to implement advisory team's CWD recommendation

Some hunters in West Central Wisconsin will be required to have their deer tested for chronic wasting disease during the entire nine-day gun deer season Nov. 23 to Dec. 1.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has decided to implement the Chippewa Valley CWD Advisory Team recommendation requiring mandatory CWD testing in a six-township area surrounding the locations where deer have previously tested positive for the disease.

The DNR will also implement mandatory in-person registration for deer harvested during the first Saturday and Sunday of the nine-day gun deer season. The Chippewa Valley CWD Advisory Team recommended requiring in-person deer registration for the first three days of the nine-day gun season during the group’s July 16 meeting.

The DNR will release more details about requirements of hunters and sampling locations as the season draws near.

“The approach that we are taking is a prime example of the department working closely with citizens and the hunting community to address the challenges associated with the spread of CWD,” DNR Assistant Deputy Secretary Todd Ambs said in a news release. “We must all work together to stop the spread of this deadly disease are therefore following the citizens lead in this area.”

The DNR is requiring CWD testing of adult deer during the nine-day deer gun season in a six-township area covering parts of Dunn, Eau Claire and Pepin counties. This includes the towns of Rock Creek, Brunswick, Washington, Albany, Drammen, and Pleasant Valley.

Hunters who kill deer in those towns outside the nine-day gun deer season as well as hunters who harvest deer outside those towns during any of the 2019 seasons should continue to use online and phone deer registration options.

The mandatory testing is in response to the recommendations received in July from the Chippewa Valley CWD Advisory Team for surveillance and management options in response to the detection of chronic wasting disease in western Eau Claire County. There will also be in-person registration of harvested deer during opening weekend of gun season in the same six township area. The testing is anticipated for this season only to complete disease surveillance goals carried over from the 2018 disease detection surveillance in this region of the state.

The Chippewa Valley CWD Advisory Team is an ad-hoc advisory team made up of representatives of County Deer Advisory Councils for Eau Claire, Buffalo, Chippewa, Dunn, Pepin and Trempealeau Counties. The team was formed in response to the CWD-positive wild deer that was discovered in Eau Claire County in March of 2018. The purpose of the team is to serve as an advisory body to the department regarding local CWD surveillance and management.

CWD is a contagious neurological disease of deer, elk and moose that is caused by an abnormal protein called a prion. These prions cause brain degeneration in infected animals and lead to extreme weight loss, abnormal behavior and loss of bodily functions. Testing for CWD can only be performed after the animal’s death.

As in previous years, CWD sampling will be offered at various locations throughout the state. Options for CWD sampling include both in-person service as well as self-service options. CWD surveillance efforts focus on testing adult deer, since older deer are more likely to test positive for the disease, according to the DNR. For their convenience, the DNR recommends hunters contact staffed sampling stations in advance to verify hours of operation.

Hunters in areas not affected by the CWD testing requirement will continue to register their deer either online or by phone. They also have the option of registering electronically at a participating walk-in registration station.

Sportsmen want efforts expanded

A DNR news conference Sept. 3 on CWD issues in Wisconsin also included a group of influential sportsmen who want Wisconsin wildlife officials to do more to educate people about the disease, help deer hunters dispose of carcasses and make CWD testing easier.

Conservation Congress Chairman Larry Bonde made the remarks during a joint news conference DNR officials. The event was designed to draw attention to the department’s efforts to address the disease as the fall hunting seasons approach.

Gov. Tony Evers, who controls the department, hasn’t offered any new CWD strategies. The governor has said he wants to see if research conducted in other states yields breakthroughs.

“Everybody would love to see CWD go away,” DNR board member Greg Kazmierski told reporters. “That’s not going to happen. All we can do is manage the disease until the science comes through.”

Bonde said a Conservation Congress committee reviewed the department’s CWD plan and came up with a number of ways to improve it without changing state law or DNR administrative rules. Chief among them: get more information about the disease to the public.

He said every DNR employee that comes into contact with the public, from wardens to foresters, should carry CWD brochures to hand out to people. The committee also recommended meat processers distribute the brochures and the department include them with every license sold. The department also needs to streamline its website so CWD data is more easily accessible, he said.

“The department has a lot of very valuable information,” Bonde said. “However, for some reason it’s not always getting in the right places, in the right hands. You always hear the story about three clicks and out and a lot of times the really good information takes about 10 clicks to get to it.”

The committee recommended the department expand a program that places dumpsters across the state to make it easier for hunters to dispose of carcasses, eliminating the chance of prions spreading.

The panel went on to suggest the DNR increase the number of unmanned kiosks where hunters can drop off tissue samples for testing. The department also should consider selling self-sampling kits and teaching people how to use them through social media websites such as YouTube.

Wisconsin law established the Conservation Congress as the DNR’s citizen advisory group, giving it a tremendous amount of clout with the department. DNR Wildlife Management Bureau Acting Director Tami Ryan promised the department would consider the recommendations.

Testing goal increased

Ryan noted that the agency hopes to collect 21,000 samples this fall, with an intense effort to test in the state’s 18 northernmost counties. The department got 17,000 samples last year.

The department hopes to increase the number of dumpsters and kiosks, Ryan said, in part by intensifying efforts to find volunteers willing to share costs with the department.

She added that the department is developing a smartphone app that will show dumpster and kiosk locations. The department also is currently building its own testing facility at the state game farm in Poynette.

Baiting and feeding bans went into effect in Burnett, Barron, Polk and Washburn counties on Sunday after an elk on a Barron County game farm tested positive for CWD, Ryan said.

“The department has been diligently working on CWD,” Kazmierski said. “Except nobody knows about it.”

The deer bow and crossbow season begins Sept. 14. The gun season for disabled hunters and youth hunters begin Oct. 5.

For a list of businesses offering walk-in registration, visit and search keywords “registration stations.”

For more information regarding where to take a deer for sampling, visit and search keywords “CWD sampling” or contact local DNR wildlife management staff.

The Country Today contributed to this report.

Brooke Bechen / Photo by Brooke Bechen  

UW-Madison graduate student Colby Grant is currently studying 12 different treatments in corn-soybeans in an effort to evaluate cost, weed population dynamics and crop productivity of certain conservation practices. His research plots are located at the Lancaster and Arlington Agricultural Research Stations.

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Local orchards face delays, but expect similar apple harvests to past years

Weather conditions earlier this year put a slight delay on apple season but should not impact the output of local growers this fall.

For orchards both large and small, this year’s apples are growing about a week behind recent years due to the lengthy winter and cold, wet spring.

Wayne Geist, co-owner of Bushel & A Peck with wife Lisa Geist, oversees around 20,000 trees and 32 apple varieties in rural Chippewa County. This year’s production is a tad behind others, but Geist said the recent daytime sun and rainy, cool nights have helped the fruits grow.

Connell’s Family Orchard co-owners Rick Connell and Steve Connell said this year stands slightly behind average compared to the previous six years. The brothers are the sixth generation of Connells to own the 161-year-old orchard in Chippewa County that offers more than 30 varieties of apples. They currently offer six types and should have a few more within the next week.

Jon Chapman has co-owned The Glass Orchard just south of Eau Claire for two years with Dawn Passineau. Chapman said the four-acre orchard, which opened its fall season on Sept. 6, is about a week behind schedule compared to last year.

Three of the orchard’s nine apple varieties are currently available.

For most orchards, business will have begun ramping up this past weekend and continue for the next several weeks. The Connells said the busiest time will likely be late September and early October, though the orchard usually has the most varieties available in mid-October.

Geist said his season essentially lasts from mid-September to the middle of October.

Chapman said it has been challenging to figure out how to make an orchard productive in a timely fashion. All of the work is done by hand, so it is a time-consuming process to prune the trees, which entails ridding trees of branches and vegetation so apples can grow better.

Geist said the toughest challenge involves the unpredictability of Mother Nature. Rick Connell agreed and said any year without a weather disaster like hail or spring frost bodes well for the fall. Fortunately, growers didn’t deal with frost that can harm apples when they are most vulnerable, nor was there any damaging hail.

Rick Connell said technological innovation has made it easier to plant, as the company now has about 5,000 trees. Geist agreed, noting that he uses integrated pest management to help the fruits grow. He said this year is on pace to be one of the most productive in his seven years working the business.

Photos by Charlie Rasmussen  

Frank Pufall looked on as son Auggie got a feel for traditional milking with Maggie the Interactive Cow.