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Panelists: Ag a victim of U.S.-China trade dispute

WAUSAU — Wisconsin’s ginseng farmers are uniquely positioned to bear the brunt of the trade dispute between the U.S. and China, according to Will Hsu of Hsu’s Ginseng in Wausau.

Each year, Wisconsin farmers grow more than 1 million pounds of ginseng, and about 85 percent of that is exported to China, which in turn brings between $30 and $50 million back to Wisconsin farmers.

But as Chinese tariffs on ginseng imported from the U.S. drive up the price of a product that can already cost more than $50 per pound, Hsu said the industry is feeling push-back from Chinese consumers.

“Any time you walk into a store, you know, roughly, what the price of something should be,” Hsu said June 18 during a panel discussion about U.S.-China trade relations. “One of the reason ginseng farmers are taking the hit right now is customers have gotten used to the pre-tariff price.

“They still want that same price for the same product.”

Hsu said tariffs on ginseng in 2018 were about 8 percent. Today, tariffs have hit 38 percent and are growing, he said.

“What that does is dampen demand for the product here,” Hsu said. “In some cases, the buyers are saying, ‘The farmers should take the hit from the tariff.’ They’re basically asking the farmers to take a 30-percent decrease in price.”

Wisconsin farmers began cultivating American Ginseng in the 1800s, according to the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin. Today much of the Wisconsin ginseng industry is found in Marathon County, and Wisconsin farmers provide 95 percent of the total American ginseng crop.

Ginseng is a key ingredient used in traditional Chinese medicine as a supplement to increase energy and relieve pain.

“Wisconsin-grown ginseng probably makes up less than 10 percent of the global production of all American ginseng,” Hsu said. “It is the most highly prized and it is the highest priced. When you are something like that, you have to protect your brand and identity.”

But despite the reputation of Wisconsin-grown ginseng, Hsu said the tariffs are making it more economical for farmers in China to increase production or for imports from Canada to increase.

“You’ve seen the price paid to Wisconsin farmers decrease over the last two or three years by well over 30 percent,” he said. “That makes it difficult to pay your bills; it makes it difficult on farmers to continue this type of livelihood; and it creates a shock to the system in terms of amount of product you can produce or sell.”

Hsu said there were more than 1,000 ginseng farmers in Wisconsin in the mid-1990s, and that number has dwindled to fewer than 150 now, mostly in Marathon County. Long term, Hsu said, continued tariffs could lead to even fewer ginseng farmers in the state.

“No one is going to want to continue to grow these products if you can’t make a living doing it,” he said. “It’s a shame because this is the heart of ginseng country.”

Don Radtke of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau and a Marathon County dairy farmer said tariffs on milking equipment and other made-in-China products that are required to keep farms running are being felt by dairy farmers already struggling with low prices on what they are producing.

“The dealerships are having to pay a tariff to get those products into the U.S., and we the farmers are ending up having to pay for that,” Radtke said. “What happens in Beijing affects us at our farm gate. We’re losing those markets, and by losing those markets, how long and what is it going to take to get those back? And how much are we going to continue losing until we get those back?”

For the first quarter of 2019, Wisconsin dairy exports to China are down by 50 percent compared to the first quarter of 2018, according to Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary-designee Brad Pfaff.

The recent tariffs have compounded issues much of the agriculture industry has been facing through several years of depressed commodity prices, according to Trisha Wagner, UW-Extension Farm Management Outreach program manager.

“There’s a lot of chronic stress that farmers have dealt with over the last few years, including before the tariffs, but the tariffs haven’t helped,” Wagner said. “That stress has been felt in rural communities through economics and relationships with families.”

Pfaff said Wisconsin officials are continuing to stay in touch with officials in China in an effort to keep markets open in the event the trade dispute is resolved.

“Wisconsin agriculture has invested a lot of time, a lot of money, into developing relationships with different countries, government officials, agribusiness partnerships around the world,” said panel moderator Pam Jahnke of Wisconsin Farm Radio Report.

President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter June 18 that he and President Xi Jinping of China would have an “extended” meeting at the Group of 20 meeting this week in Osaka, Japan, raising hopes that an end of the dispute could be near.

“When countries get together on relatively even terms, they specialize in ways that improves the productivity of those countries and benefits consumers as well as producers in those countries,” said Dr. Ian Coxhead of the UW-Madison Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.

Coxhead said tariffs imposed by the U.S. take from the bottom line of farmers by increasing costs and tariffs imposed in retaliation come off the top line by lowering the price paid to farmers for the goods they produce.

“That squeezes profits from both sides, so it’s a real big pain,” he said. “If you’re going to have a tax that eats into the bottom line and cuts off the top line as well, there better be some benefits, as well.

“Farmers need to ask, ‘Where are the benefits, and how long do I have to wait?’”

Both Coxhead and Pfaff agreed that China needed to be reined in on several fronts regarding trade but that there should be ways to accomplish that other than trading tariffs across the board.

“China is a bad actor on intellectual property rights; they’re a bad actor on subsidies to their state-owned corporations; they’re a bad actor on two or three other areas, as well,” Coxhead said. “Those impact the global trading system because China is the world’s largest trading power.

“But what we’re doing by applying tariffs right across the board on every product coming from China and, in turn, inviting retaliation from China on just about every product sold by the United States is equivalent to my wife and myself disagreeing about who does the dishes and I say, ‘OK, forget it, I’ll burn down the house.’ That has long-term consequences.”

“The Chinese should not be stealing United States’ intellectual property,” Pfaff said. “But how did agriculture get to be collateral on that? We should not be collateral on the fact that we need the Chinese to stop stealing U.S. intellectual property.

“I do not believe food should be used as a negotiating tool.”

Hsu said that no matter the outcome of the U.S. trade dispute with China, consumers should play the biggest role in the future of the agriculture industry. Hsu said his challenge is convincing consumers in China the value of ginseng that is grown in Wisconsin. For farmers of other Wisconsin products, the job would be to convince consumers closer to home of their products’ value.

“We have to ask ourselves as consumers some very real, hard economic questions,” Hsu said. “We make these choices as consumers every day. (We have to get consumers to) care about the farm they are buying from.

“The most dramatic economic impact American consumers can have on family farms is figuring out where your food comes from and actually caring and then choosing to buy.”

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Pfaff stresses partnership at Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin meeting

MADISON — Wisconsin Agriculture Secretary Brad Pfaff couldn’t help but smile as he addressed the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin board of directors last Wednesday, June 19. He recognized a lot of familiar faces and was reminded of the time when his own father served on the former Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, representing La Crosse County and their family dairy farm there.

As the organization wrapped up its fiscal year, many were pleased that Pfaff and Assistant Deputy Secretary Angela James could attend one of the board meetings, providing an update on priorities and asking for assistance as Pfaff continues in his role as the state’s agriculture secretary.

When Gov. Tony Evers appointed Pfaff as the secretary-designee, Pfaff said he told the governor he had three areas of special focus: dairy, water and water policy, and hemp and new product development. He’s spent quite a bit of time on the first two items already, Pfaff said, and asked the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin board, composed of 25 dairy farmers from all sizes of operations around the state, how the department could better partner with the organization to refocus Wisconsin on dairy.

“I’m a welcoming hand and I need you; you, as dairy farmers, are my boots on the ground,” he said.

Pfaff aims to partner with Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin to help develop the Wisconsin brand, increase markets, find where consumers are moving to in the grocery space and continue a working relationship with other partners, such as the Center for Dairy Research, to move Wisconsin dairy forward. He plans to push that discussion along by sharing Wisconsin’s story in dairy, but he needs the help of dairy farmers like the ones serving on the board to do so.

“Dairy is our history. Dairy is our present. Dairy is our future,” Pfaff said. “It’s way too polarized right now but pride and who we are unites us.

“I know where I’m from,” he continued. “I’m proud of where I’m from and know where I want to go. I want to take Wisconsin dairy forward. Our dairy heritage is our value-added; it is what sets us apart from other states.”

Pfaff also aims to continue to communicate with farmers, working with them as they make difficult decisions on their farms. He also stressed the need to communicate with non-agriculture audiences and lawmakers about the importance of Wisconsin agriculture, particularly Wisconsin dairy. As he listens and advocates for Wisconsin farmers, he also is tasked with recognizing the connection between the farm and food, communicating that with those not directly involved with agriculture.

“I’m in a unique position to tell that story,” he said. “But we’ve got work ahead of us and we’re going to need your ideas.”

Four new directors also attended their first Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin board meeting on June 19, with four outgoing directors sitting in at their last formal meeting. Outgoing board members Ken Heiman, Tina Hinchley, Vivian Thompson and Kevin Walleser all received recognition for their service at the meeting while new members were welcomed by the board.

Stephen Pankratz, the new District 12 director, farms near Marshfield with his wife and children. They milk 140 cows and have been shipping milk to Lynn Dairy since 1958.

Virgil Haag, the new District 24 director, milks 190 registered Holsteins outside of Mount Horeb. He farms with his wife and two children, and ships his milk to Klondike Cheese Co. in Monroe.

Douglas Danielson, the new District 6 director, farms in Cadott with his wife and several others who serve as co-managers of the farm. He milks 425 registered Holsteins and ships his milk to La Grander’s Hillside Dairy in Stanley.

Gail Klinker, the new District 21 director, farms near Viroqua, milking 20 Holsteins and 30 Jerseys. She farms with her husband, Rob, and their five children, shipping their milk to Westby Cooperative Creamery in Westby. Both of her parents have served on the former Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, which sparked her interest in promoting the dairy industry at a young age.

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Advisory group recommends mandatory CWD testing

ROCK FALLS — Testing for chronic wasting disease would be mandatory during the nine-day 2019 gun-deer season in six townships surrounding the sites where three deer returned CWD-positive tests in 2018 if the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources implements the recommendations of the Chippewa Valley CWD Advisory Team.

“We really need test results ... We need mandatory testing, because we need the results that bad,” said Mark Noll, the Advisory Team member from Buffalo County. “We don’t even know for sure what we’re dealing with. Or even where we’re dealing with it.”

The Advisory Team also recommended requiring in-person deer registration for the first three days of the nine-day gun season and a continuation of surveillance permits in an focus area that would be expanded from the 2018 area during their June 19 Chippewa Valley CWD Advisory Team Meeting at Rock Creek Town Hall.

The in-person deer registration for the first three days of the nine-day season came from discussions of DNR employees deciding what they feel they can effectively staff.

“The first three days probably could cover a good number of the deer that are shot if we have a good opening weekend of the season,” said Chippewa Valley CWD Advisory Team Chairman Dave Zielke of Eau Claire County. “A good opening weekend could get us to 60 to 70 percent of the deer that are shot. We could have a good amount of deer coming in.”

Additionally, Advisory Team members discussed finding ways to fund disposal of deer carcasses in the six-county area, including a possible adopt-a-dumpster effort in the region.

The six townships that would require hunters have their deer tested are all within two miles of a site where a CWD-positive deer was found and include portions of southwestern Eau Claire County, southeastern Dunn County and northeastern Pepin County.

“If we test five times as many deer, I’m sure we’re going to find more than five times what we found last year,” said Al Marotz, Advisory Team member from Dunn County. “We just gave it another year. It’s growing. It’s here.”

The Chippewa Valley CWD Advisory Team is an panel 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 deer that was discovered in Eau Claire County in March 2018. The purpose of the team is to serve as an advisory body to the DNR regarding local CWD surveillance and management.

In March 2018, a 2-year old doe in Eau Claire County returned a positive CWD test, prompting the state Department of Natural Resources to increase testing efforts in western Eau Claire County and parts of adjacent counties. Following a positive test for CWD, state law requires a baiting and feeding ban be put in place in counties within a 10-mile radius of the positive test. In this case, that ban affected Eau Claire, Chippewa, Dunn, Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties.

“There were a lot of counties affected by this, so we figured it would be smart to get somebody from each of these (County Deer Advisory Councils) on a group so they could all talk to each other,” said Bill Hogseth, DNR wildlife manager for Eau Claire and Chippewa counties.

In an effort to ramp up CWD testing — which was voluntary — in 2018, the DNR created a 500-square-mile surveillance area surrounding the first positive CWD test and a focus area with a tighter radius around the original positive test.

The DNR issued 108 surveillance permits to 49 landowners with the requirement that any deer taken with a surveillance permit would be tested for CWD. Between September 2018 and February 2019, 29 deer were killed by hunters using a surveillance permit and tested for CWD.

Hogseth said the DNR had a goal of testing 310 deer in the surveillance area and 70 deer in the focus area. Assuming a 1 percent disease prevalence, that goal would have given the DNR more than 90 percent confidence in detecting the disease in the surveillance area and just under 50 percent in the focus area.

They came up short of that goal, testing 238 deer in the surveillance area and 61 in the focus area. Including deer taken during hunting seasons, car-killed deer and reports of sick deer responded to by DNR officials, 1,663 were tested in the six-county area between March 1, 2018, and Feb. 19, 2019.

Even with the DNR coming up short of testing goals, two mature bucks killed during November’s gun-deer hunting season were found to have CWD. One of the deer deemed to have CWD was a 3-year-old buck shot in the town of Brunswick. Another buck officials believe was 4 or 5 years old was killed in the town of Drammen close to the border with Brunswick.

“We came up short of our goal,” Noll said. “Except for the fact that we got a couple more positives, what did we learn from this? We don’t know if we were even on the epicenter of it.”

Hogseth said testing goals put in place for 2018 were numbers that statistically gave the DNR confidence they would find one more positive in the area. With mandatory testing during the 2019 season, they may be able to determine prevalence of the disease in the area.

“When we talk prevalence, we’re talking about the percentage of individuals in the population that we estimate to be affected,” Hogseth said. “That requires a more powerful sample size to estimate that than just being able to detect one more animal and see if the disease is here.

“Our models suggest, for us to start talking about prevalence, we would have to test 550 to 600 animals.”

Advisory Council members will collect public feedback between now and their July 16 meeting and make any changes necessary to the recommendations. Recommendations made at the July 16 meeting will go to the DNR for review. If the DNR adopts the recommendations, the new rules would go into effect by November for the 2019 gun-deer season.

“As we’re responding to a pretty evolving situation, with new detections from year to year, these meetings allow us to hear where the public as at on this issue,” Hogseth said. “It helps us make sure we’re making the right decisions.

“These are efforts to collect public sentiment on what the best direction to go it. There’s no silver bullet for this, so we want to make sure we’ve got the public along with us as we’re trying to address it.”

For more information and to find contact information for Chippewa Valley CWD Advisory Team members, visit

Photos by Jim Massey  

A.P. Whaley employee Eve Knopp hoed weeds from a row of carrots at the company’s research farm just south of Mount Horeb.

Photo by Bill Thornley  

Still waters on a beautiful lake become favorite memories of fishing outings with friends and family.