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She’s ‘goat’ it: Ahrens first graduate of SWTC's Dairy Goat Herd Management Certificate

Dominique Ahrens has a passion for animals, dedicating her time to helping youth in Kewaunee County 4-H with animal projects and working on her family’s small farmstead, raising milking goats, Suffolk sheep, chickens and many other animals. Recently, she took her passion for animals, dairy goats in particular, one step further, becoming the first graduate of Southwest Wisconsin Technical College’s Dairy Goat Herd Management Certificate program.

“It was really exciting to be the first to complete the program,” Ahrens said.

A 2016 high school graduate, Ahrens became interested in goats after her sister got her first one. The goat was fun to have around, she said, and caring for it was a little bit different than caring for sheep.

“I really fell in love with them then,” she said.

She wanted to increase her knowledge in the area of dairy goat production, enrolling in Southwest Tech’s program in 2017, when it first debuted. Because of her busy schedule, Ahrens was able to successfully earn her certificate this spring after two years in the program.

In order to graduate from the program, Ahrens had to complete 11 online courses, attend one of the college’s two-day Dairy Goat Academies, which provide hands-on training, and participate in a 48-hour mentorship program. Online courses span a wide variety of topics all relating to dairy goat herd management, including genetics and selection; an introduction to the dairy goat industry; reproduction and breeding programs; dairy goat nutrition; milking facilities and housing; farm records and financial management; goat records and analysis; promotion and marketing; writing a business plan; herd health; and kid management.

Ahrens said there were about 10 to 12 others in the program, and through the use of the Internet, they could all communicate with each other, asking questions and sharing opinions on different topics of discussion. Her favorite topic was kidding as “it’s always so exciting to go to the barn and see what the goat produces.”

The program’s instructor and coordinator is Clare Heberlein, who, along with her husband, owns and operates a commercial dairy goat operation outside of Fennimore. The Heberleins have been milking 300 dairy goats in their custom-made facilities since 2010, with Heberlein’s interest in dairy goats stemming from her childhood.

Ahrens is already applying a lot of what she learned from the program back at her family’s home farm in Luxemburg. She took a particular interest in breeding and marketing and is brainstorming products that could be made from her animals. She also has ambitions to try pasture rotations and hopes to get that going on her farm.

“I would recommend the classes to anyone either looking to get into a big dairy or just doing a hobby farm,” she said. “It has taught me a lot.”

The certificate is meant to fine tune farm management skills and provide the knowledge to support a full-time commercial dairy goat operation, and is a good fit for both the experienced producer or novice goat farmer. Ahrens highly recommended the program because she learned so much — much of which she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn unless she spent a lot of time with a mentor.

Wisconsin is the nation’s leader in dairy goats, with 72,000 head recorded by the Wisconsin Ag Statistical Service in January 2019. In fact, milk goat inventory in Wisconsin was up seven percent this year over last year.

For more information about SWTC’s Dairy Goat Herd Management Certificate, see The college will also be hosting this year’s Dairy Goat Academy on Nov. 1 and 2, with further information on that event included on the website as well.

Photo by Brooke Bechen  

Fenn currently has four sheep on the property, but has ambitions to graze more once she establishes her silvopasture.

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Experts warn hemp market in flux

DARLINGTON — Despite efforts to prohibit marijuana establishments in Lafayette County, including the prohibition of hemp and CBD oil sales, interest in hemp cultivation continues to grow in the county, with about 50 people attending a recent meeting on industrial hemp, geared particularly for CBD production.

According to Joshua Kamps, Lafayette County UW-Extension agriculture educator, there are 463 licensed acres of industrial hemp in Lafayette County this year; however, it is unknown if those acres have all been planted and if they are all being cultivated for CBD, but Kamps believes it is likely the majority of those acres are for CBD production.

“The soil has done well for hemp so far this year,” he said, although the county hasn’t been void of insect and disease pressure for this newly re-introduced crop.

In Lafayette County, Kamps has identified the presence of the Eurasian hemp borer, the cannabis aphid and the flea beetle. Some damage was reported with these insects, but none of them appeared to hang around the fields for too long, he said.

Bigger issues have arisen with downy mildew, with Kamps displaying three samples for attendees to observe of this type of disease commonly found on cucurbits, grapes and soybeans. Weather conditions have played a big part in the occurrence of this disease on hemp in Lafayette County, Kamps said.

He has also seen fusarium root rot and pythium on some hemp plants in the county, with Extension collecting information on identification and the effects each disease have on hemp plants within the county. Kamps has noticed that “rouge hemp,” also known as “feral hemp” or “ditchweed,” has had the same kind of insect pressure as seen in industrial hemp plants, although it appears it has less disease pressure this year.

“I’m hopeful we can find tools for our toolbox as it relates to hemp,” he said.

He’s also hopeful for a conventional, straightforward way of harvesting the crop, along with the development of best management practices and cost of production spreadsheets similar to ones used for other crops in Wisconsin.

For Kamps, much of it starts locally. He encouraged those in attendance to contact him or UW-Extension if they want to try something new or have observed something interesting going on with their crop.

“Without your involvement and partnership, we won’t learn much about this locally,” he said.

He was quick to state, however, that Lafayette County UW-Extension is in no way promoting the cultivation of industrial hemp — only providing resources and finding the best ways to do it.

“It’s interesting and exciting and we’re here to support that,” Kamps said.

Dr. Shelby Ellison of UW-Madison’s Horticulture Department and Dr. Leah Sandler of the Michael Fields Agriculture Institute also provided an update on what they’ve been seeing across the state when it comes to pest and disease pressure in this year’s hemp crop. Insects like the Eurasian hemp borer and corn borer have been observed; however, the corn borer has been seen in lots of crops this year, Sandler said.

There are no labeled pesticides for hemp and no synthetic products should be used on the crop, she also advised. She has spoken to growers who have used soaps and oils with varying degrees of success, and encouraged growers who may have found something that worked — or didn’t work — to let her know so that information can be shared with others.

Because the Midwest is more humid than states located out west, hemp plants in Wisconsin have had a higher risk of mildews, including downy and powdery mildews. Spacing and ventilation can help, along with other factors, depending on the size of the operation.

Harvesting will be fast approaching, typically in mid-September to mid-October in Wisconsin. This means licensed hemp growers will need to contact the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to schedule a hemp sampling date. Melody Walker, DATCP Pest Survey and Control Section chief, was on hand to answer any questions growers may have had on the state’s testing methods and procedures.

Ideally, a grower should contact DATCP and schedule the testing 30 days before harvest, Sandler said. Walker anticipates this year being more challenging than last year due to the sheer volume of samples that need to be collected and tested as interest in industrial hemp continues to grow in Wisconsin.

Growers should also plan accordingly for harvest, knowing that it will likely take a lot of hand labor to complete. Hemp needs to be dried quickly after harvest to minimize damage to CBD, with Sandler estimating about two to three days from harvest to drying in a space that is covered by a roof and out of direct sunlight.

DATCP will test the THC content as part of their testing, ensuring that it is under the legal limit of 0.3%. A processor will test the CBD percentage and pay the grower accordingly for their product, with Walker encouraging CBD growers to test their hemp earlier to ensure their THC levels aren’t too high.

Ellison also warned that processors will be picky this year due to the large influx of growers, particularly those growing hemp for CBD. These processors will be looking for the presence of heavy metals and pesticides, among other indicators, paying top dollar for the best products.

Hemp-based sales in the United States reached $1.1 billion last year, but it is hard to predict the market for hemp in 2019, especially for CBD.

“Grow the best crop you can grow,” Ellison said. “It’s a very volatile market right now.”

A resolution in opposition to the legalization of marijuana in the State of Wisconsin was on the agenda for the Lafayette County Board Aug. 20. It was brought forward by the Lafayette County Law Enforcement Committee, with Sheriff Reg Gill advising the board to consider the resolution after he spoke with sheriffs in Colorado and law enforcement in Florence County, near the Michigan border, where marijuana is legal.

Neighboring Illinois became the 11th state in the U.S. to legalize the sale and use of recreational marijuana this year. Sales will officially launch on Jan. 1, 2020.

Artwork by Lee Sackett  

Lee Sackett helped a friend, Cathy Schultz, raise awareness about women struggling with breast cancer with a photo of the young woman dressed in pink and Black Mare sporting a pink ribbon on her hip.

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Gov. Evers talks importance of maintaining water quality

CHIPPEWA FALLS — A dozen kids showed up, hoping to swim, at Kamp Kenwood on the east shore of Lake Wissota on Aug. 15. However, the children were told that the blue-green algae along the shore meant the beach was closed.

Gov. Tony Evers said the bad news for the kids was a perfect example of the problems Wisconsin is facing with maintaining and preserving water quality.

“Not only are people concerned about water quality from their wells, they are concerned about the water they put on their fields,” Evers said at the Wisconsin Farmers Union summer conference. “Everyone should have access to clean drinking water. We have to protect our watersheds now and into the future.”

Evers added, speaking to the children: “Sometime in the future, we won’t have to worry about people swimming (in poor water quality.)”

During his visit to the campground Aug. 15, Evers observed a rainfall simulator, which showed the impact that runoff has on five different surfaces, from forests to cropland. The soil samples were all collected within a mile of each other in Pierce County.

The rainfall simulator showed how damaging runoff was on land that isn’t properly managed. It also showed the positives of no-till land management on farms.

Evers said he is working with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, having officials go around the state and visit large livestock farms. He also has ordered scientists in the Department of Natural Resources to work on ideas to reduce nitrates in soils. He said he recently observed a powerful DNR exhibit at the Wisconsin State Fair about clean water.

“I appreciate the good work done around wetlands,” he said.

Evers said he knows Wisconsin farmers are struggling, and tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump aren’t helping.

“I recognize it’s a challenging life to be a farmer,” Evers said.

Craig Myhre, who farms about 800 acres south of Osseo in Trempealeau County, said this has been a tough year for farmers. At age 52, he is worried about going out of business. Fertilizer and seed prices remain high, and market prices are down.

“I didn’t have a good year last year,” he said. “Anyone I talk to is very worried. It’s going to be a do-or-die year for many farmers. I’m too young to quit, but how much equity do you want to burn up? The banks will call the shots, ultimately.”

Myrhe estimates that to break even on his 400 acres of corn, he needs to receive $3.70 to $3.80 per bushel, and about $9 per bushel on his 300-plus acres of soybeans. However, fall market prices are currently at $3.12 per bushel of corn and $8.03 per bushel of soybeans.

Like other farmers, Myrhe said the tariffs have devastated the soybean business, as China completely stopped buying U.S. soybeans. China had been the number one foreign market.

“We’ve got a lot of backup of grain that should have been going out all summer,” Myrhe said. “Once they get them loaded (on cargo ships), is there anywhere for them to go?”

Ken Schmitt, a former Chippewa County board member from the town of Howard, said it will be a challenging year for all farmers. Schmitt is cutting back on the number of cows on his farm.

Schmitt said he was pleased that Evers made the trip to Chippewa County to hear from farmers.

“It’s nice to see the concerns about groundwater, because there are a lot of issues out there,” Schmitt said. “It would be a shame to squander that for future generations.”

About 120 people attended the WFU summer conference. WFU executive director Julie Keown-Bomar said it was a positive discussion about water quality and reducing pollution, along with analyzing consolidation in agriculture and the impact it is having on farmers. She was thrilled Evers participated in the discussion.

“We’re focusing on water and anti-trust issues, and he’s here to hear our perspectives on it,” Keown-Bowar said.

Like others, Keown-Bowar said the tariffs are adding to the stressful conditions farmers are facing.

“Things were bad before the tariffs, and the tariffs have made them worse,” she said. “This is salt in the wounds.”

Evers spoke about 15 minutes, then observed the rainfall simulator before leaving. He declined to speak with the assembled media, citing his tight schedule.