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Edling Farms donates about 36,000 pounds of irregularly shaped Russets potatoes in all sizes each Thanksgiving to the Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities.

Students cheer as Alice cuts down her first Christmas tree

BROOKLYN — Fourth- and fifth-graders from New Glarus and Albany schools in Green County had the opportunity to spend the morning at Lancaster’s Winterberry Tree Farm with Kaitlyn Riley, 71st Alice in Dairyland, learning about Wisconsin agriculture and the Christmas tree industry. The students switched around to several different stations, manned by the Lancaster family, New Glarus and Albany FFA members and representatives of the Green County Conservation League, before gathering around a Christmas tree, ready to be cut to kick-off Wisconsin’s 2018 Christmas tree season.

The Christmas tree cutting by Alice in Dairyland is held each year on a different Wisconsin tree farm in partnership with the Wisconsin Christmas Tree Producers Association. This year’s site selection in Green County coincides with the selection of the 72nd Alice in Dairyland, slated for May 9-11 in Green County next year.

There are 870 Christmas tree farms in Wisconsin, giving residents the opportunity to travel to every corner of the state in search of the perfect Christmas tree each season — a tradition that goes back for decades, Riley said. The students shared many memories with her that morning of picking out their Christmas trees, with some students hoping that this will be the first year they get their own real Christmas tree.

Dressed in her warm mink coat and Alice crown, Riley admitted to the crowd that she’d never cut a Christmas tree before. She asked tree farm owner Greg Lancaster for advice as she began sawing with a decorated saw, the students all cheering as she made the first few cuts.

“You got this, Kaitlyn!” they exclaimed, wooing and clapping when the tree finally toppled over.

Greg and Vicky Lancaster have owned and operated Lancaster’s Winterberry Tree Farm for the past 25 years. The cut-your-own Christmas tree operation also specializes in wreaths, garlands and boughs, all made carefully by Vicky Lancaster.

With an agriculture and forestry background, Greg Lancaster had ambitions to open a Christmas tree farm to help people celebrate the real reason for Christmas — the birth of Christ. He’s enjoyed the individuals and families that have come to his tree farm year after year to find the perfect tree to celebrate Christmas.

“We’ve had folks come from two hours away and spend three hours on a beautiful day selecting a tree,” he said. “It’s a nice, relaxed atmosphere here.”

The Lancasters plant 1,400 new trees each year, with 1,500 trees available each year for customers to cut themselves. He said the farm moves about 1,000 Christmas trees each season, with balsam fir, concolor fir, Douglas fir, Fraser fir, spruce and white pine all options for customers.

One of the neat things the Lancasters do is let customers come early in late September-early October to select their perfect Christmas tree; the selected trees are tagged, with the customer returning during their Christmas tree season to pick up their tree. The Lancaster’s Winterberry Tree Farm opens the Saturday before Thanksgiving and remains open until Christmas each year.

Wisconsin is the fifth-largest Christmas tree producer in the U.S., with an annual harvest of more than 600,000 trees, valued at more than $16 million.

His best shot
Dairy farmer harvests first legal elk in Wisconsin’s inaugural elk hunt

BRUSSELS — For years, Dan Vandertie’s claim to fame were the 43 consecutive awards his Doorco Holsteins dairy farm received as Progressive Breeders’ Registry honorees.

The Holstein Association USA’s longest-running award honors top registered Holstein homebred herds based on elite milk production and classification scores. Doorco Holsteins’ honors started when Dan’s parents owned the farm.

Now, the 56-year-old Vandertie finds himself with a new claim to fame, and it doesn’t have anything to do with dairy farming.

Vandertie, who along with his wife, Julie, owns Doorco Holsteins in the Door County town of Brussels, earned his place in Wisconsin lore this month by harvesting the first legal elk in the state’s inaugural managed elk hunt.

On Nov. 8, while hunting near Clam Lake in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Vandertie used a pair of perfectly placed shots to down an impressive bull elk from 160 yards away. The 6X6 bull (six points on each side of its antlers) weighed roughly 800 pounds and fell just 40 feet from where it was first shot.

Peering through the scope of his .300 Winchester Short Magnum rifle at that moment, Vandertie said, “You’re not thinking about getting the first legal elk in the state hunt. You just see it’s a very nice animal out there. You realize how big they really are. You’re looking through the sights and … I’ve hunted enough deer where you calm yourself and don’t rush the shot. You’re not shaking. You stay calm.

“And then when I shot it and it went down, I was very excited because I knew I had a nice elk. Then after a few minutes, it made me think — you know what, I’m a little bit sad. Because I’ll never get to hunt elk in Wisconsin again. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It’s just one of those things I’ll never forget, especially because of the people I met along the way on my journey and the things I got to experience.”

The season

The first managed elk hunt in Wisconsin history opened Oct. 13 following restoration efforts that started in that geographic range with the release of 25 elk from Michigan in 1995.

“This is an incredible conservation success story for Wisconsin,” DNR Secretary Dan Meyer said.

Kevin Wallenfang, Wisconsin DNR deer and elk ecologist, said the hunt was initiated because the herd size surpassed 200; he estimated the pre-hunt number at 215 to 220 elk.

Ten tags were made available for a bull-only hunt this fall. More than 38,000 applications were submitted at $10 each, and Vandertie was one of four Wisconsin residents awarded a tag through a random drawing. One additional tag was awarded to a state resident through a raffle conducted by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. And the remaining five tags were distributed to the Wisconsin Chippewa tribes.

The 2018 state hunt was divided into two periods — Oct. 13 to Nov. 11 and Dec. 13 to Dec. 21. In addition to Vandertie’s 6X6 elk, the other state tags that were filled were 5X5’s. The lone hunter who didn’t harvest an elk yet has another chance during December. Hunters may be issued or transferred only one elk license in their lifetime, meaning Vandertie made the most of his opportunity.

Territory for the hunt spans about 1,600 square miles within the Clam Lake elk range, encompassing sections of Sawyer, Bayfield, Ashland and Price counties in northern Wisconsin.

Wallenfang said the quota for next year’s elk hunt will be determined in March, and the application period will be in effect throughout May; it’s a $10 application fee for Wisconsin residents only. Application and license fees, donated funds and proceeds from the RMEF raffle are earmarked for elk management and research in Wisconsin.

The farm

Vandertie is no stranger to hunting and dairy farming.

“I’ve been working on this farm since birth, basically,” he said. “Born and raised here. This is my farm, my home. And then when Julie and I got married in 1987, we bought the farm at the same time.” To which he added with a laugh, “We just liked putting stress on our marriage right off the bat.”

Doorco Holsteins milks a herd of 35 registered Holsteins while also doing some cash-cropping on its 400 acres. In addition, the Vanderties sell registered breeding bulls to area farmers and distribute embryos both nationally and internationally.

Vandertie remains passionate about hunting, too. He recalls “running behind (his father, Wilferd Vandertie) through corn fields and doing some rabbit hunting and small game hunting when I was a kid. All my life, I’ve been into some type of hunting.”

Vandertie began deer hunting as a young teenager and still dons his blaze orange apparel whenever time permits. To date, his biggest deer is an 8-pointer shot several years ago on the farm.

Vandertie’s grandfather, William “Butch” Vandertie, traveled to Canada on hunting excursions in 1959, 1960 and 1961 and came back with a moose each year. Vandertie wasn’t born at that time, but he proudly maintains the 1961 Dodge D100 pickup truck his grandfather bought for the moose trip that last season.

Despite their hunting exploits, neither Vandertie’s father nor grandfather went elk hunting.

“My father’s wish was always to go out west elk hunting,” Vandertie said. “But by the time he figured he had time to do it off the farm, his legs and knees weren’t in the best shape so he never got out elk hunting. I wish he had that chance.”

The hunt

Vandertie and one of his daughters, Karlee, both applied for elk tags last spring.

A few weeks later, Vandertie received a voice mail from Wallenfang after coming in from the barn one night.

“So I called him the next morning and when he told me I got a tag, I thought, ‘OK, who’s pulling a joke on me?’” Vandertie said. “I told him, ‘Are you serious? This isn’t a joke?’ So I said, ‘Hang on, I need to sit down.’ I thought, ‘Holy buckets, this is great! The chance to hunt elk in Wisconsin. Wow.’ I knew how lucky I was.”

With help from his wife, Julie, who shouldered additional duties back on the farm, Vandertie made the first of several four-hour drives to Clam Lake in July to scout the area.

“I got in the woods there and first thing I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, how do you shoot elk in here?’” he said. “This is thick. Real thick. You go to Colorado elk hunting and you’ve got openings. Up in Clam Lake, it was so thick I thought it was going to be impossible. The most you could see was 30, 40 yards, but the elk have hundreds of square miles where they can be.”

Vandertie promptly connected with foresters and DNR personnel and gathered maps and plat books, “because I had to do my homework and figure out a plan.”

By chance, Vandertie’s other daughter, Bridget, came across someone heading to Clam Lake in August to run bear dogs.

“That person was Mitch Bemis, and we talked and he invited me up there,” Vandertie said. “We met up with bear hunters there and they helped with advice on where they see the elk. They really helped get me familiar with the area.”

In another case of good fortune, Vandertie met John and Brenda Maier, who own True North Guiding and Outfitters.

“Our daughters played softball together in high school, and he had a cabin up there,” Vandertie said. “He was right in the middle of elk territory, so they helped me out a lot, too.”

Yet, despite the newfound connections and hours of planning, Vandertie didn’t see any elk in the woods the first two days of hunting.

“We saw them before daylight and after dark when we couldn’t get them, or by the road where we couldn’t shoot them,” he said. “We were getting a little concerned.”

So Vandertie stopped at an area bar, seeking advice rather than a beverage. The locals wasted no time pointing out on maps where open spots could be found in the forest and elk may be seen. They also suggested speaking with loggers who were well-versed in the region.

Shortly thereafter, Vandertie came across a large bull elk. But since it was on private land and permission couldn’t be secured, he had to move on. Ironically, Vandertie ended up coming across the same big bull as time progressed, this time on huntable land.

“I thought I had a second chance at that guy,” Vandertie said. “So we snuck out to the edge of the guy’s barn and were hiding behind a wall of the barn looking through the spotting scope. The bull ended up being 300 yards out in the field. But that far out with a 10 mile-an-hour crosswind and the fact it was getting late in the day … I decided it wasn’t worth taking a chance of wounding him and not finding him. So I let him go.”

The bull

Disappointed but not deterred, Vandertie returned to Doorco Holsteins and continued dairy farming for several more days.

With the first month of the elk season starting to wind down, Vandertie packed his bags and returned to Clam Lake on Nov. 7. He again spoke with loggers who pointed him in the direction of where they recently spotted large bulls.

“And that’s where I found the guy that I shot — he was in one of the places they said they saw him,” Vandertie said.

On the morning of Nov. 8, Vandertie and his hunting partners, Mitch Bemis and taxidermist Troy Piotrowski, saw the 6X6 bull but couldn’t get a shot.

“He kept moving closer to the forest road,” Vandertie said. “And then he went into some real heavy evergreens and he kept staying 100, 150 yards ahead of me. About that time we let him be and we went looking for other bulls. A storm front was coming in, so we were really looking.”

At about 12:30 p.m., Vandertie returned to the area in the national forest where he originally spotted the bull. This time he noticed the large elk with a smaller 3X3 bull.

“At about 3:15 p.m., that 3X3 came out, and then about 3:30, this big guy came out,” Vandertie said. “We waited for a while until he got in position where we had a nice shot, and then we took him.”

Both of Vandertie’s shots were on target, as the bull fell within 40 feet of his first shot.

“My dad was extremely excited. It was a pretty cool experience,” said his daughter, Karlee, who was scouting areas nearby and quickly drove to the site after receiving her father’s call.

“So now we’ve got this 800-pound bull lying there,” Vandertie said. “We called some DNR people to come verify it and had to get samples from the deer for the DNR to do health checks.

“And then a guy pulls up who was bow hunting a little further down. He came to see the elk. He was excited and congratulated me and offered to help. He said he had a group of guys who could help us. So 15 minutes later another bunch of guys come pulling up, and they basically carried that elk out of the woods and put it on the back of my truck for me. They were great.”

The memories

“After that, guys were telling me, ‘You got the first one so you have the record for the biggest one, too,’” Vandertie said.

He added that the Boone and Crockett Club will do official measurements after the elk has been dead for 60 days. Some of his elk’s meat has already been shared with loggers and people near Clam Lake who helped during the hunt.

“It’s a big elk, but I know there are bigger elk up there yet,” Vandertie said. “I know because I saw them myself.”

Vandertie plans to have his elk shoulder mounted. He said he’s open to showing it at events to help promote the elk hunt on behalf of the Wisconsin DNR.

“There are a lot of people who don’t even know there are elk in Wisconsin,” Vandertie said. “There are people who said to me, ‘Is that a game farm you won a ticket for? Are they in a pen or what?’ So I explained it to them. They definitely weren’t in a pen. It wasn’t like shooting fish in a barrel. This was a whole lot tougher than we thought it was going to be.”

As for his father and grandfather, Vandertie said, “My cousin, when she saw I got it, she said, ‘Your dad and grandpa are smiling right now. You did well.’”

Now that’s he’s back on the dairy farm, Vandertie is busy milking cows and trying to harvest some of the corn that was still standing because of the wet fall.

“I’ve got a lot of work to catch up on from the time I was gone,” he said. “And I have to give my wife some time off now, because she held down the farm and took all the weight on her shoulders to get everything done while I was hunting.”

But no matter what, Vandertie said, he’ll never forget this hunting experience.

“One guy told me, ‘Wow, Dan, what a nice ending, shooting an elk,’” he said. “I just said, ‘Nah, this isn’t an ending. I plan on going back up there and doing more hunting with the people I met. The people were great. And the national forest up there is very nice. A lot of canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hunting. It opened up my eyes to a whole new part of Wisconsin and how beautiful it is up there.

“Even if I hadn’t got that elk, it was still a great journey. The people, the beautiful areas, those were probably the best parts about it.”

New Holstein dairy farmer honored with Leopold award

MADISON — Calumet County dairy farmer David Geiser has a reputation as a respected farmer and conservationist, his passion stemming from his devotion to improve the health of soil, water, plants and cattle.

In August, he was named as one of three finalists for the prestigious 2018 Aldo Leopold Conservation Award. At the Nov. 15 meeting of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection board, Geiser was announced as this year’s recipient of the award by Sand County Foundation President and CEO Kevin McAleese.

“(Aldo) Leopold spoke of this compelling, internal ethic called a land ethic as the thing that would lead to individuals taking responsibility for improving land health,” McAleese said. “Today, we are here to celebrate an individual, a family and a business that so emblemizes that spirit.”

Geiser and his wife, Deb Reinhart, are owners of Gold Star Dairy in New Holstein. Home to 450 Holstein cows, Gold Star Dairy has hosted many tours on grazing and management of livestock on karst soil, earning the Calumet County Land Conservation Award in 2004.

Geiser has been active in learning how to best manage the fragile karst topography that his family has farmed between Lake Michigan and Lake Winnebago for more than a century, with Geiser returning to the farm in 1975.

He was also one of the first Calumet County farmers to obtain a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan through the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program and is a founding member of the Calumet County Forage Council.

Along with receiving the honor of being named this year’s recipient, Secretary of Agriculture Sheila Harsdorf also presented an accommodation to Geiser, signed by Gov. Scott Walker, honoring Geiser’s accomplishments.

“A lot of times, if there is pollution or contamination or some environmental tragedy, agriculture and farmers are the first ones the fingers are pointed to,” Harsdorf said. “This award is so very important because it recognizes those farmers, like David, that are going above and beyond and who are proactive in recognizing the importance of taking care of our land and our waters.

“You’re both a student and a teacher. You take the time to learn about not only your geographical structure on your dairy but you also invest a lot of time researching best practices, innovative approaches to managing our land and resources. But then you take it one step further — you don’t only use it on your own operation, but you use it to share with others.”

Geiser humbly accepted the honor in front of a small crowd gathered for the DATCP board meeting.

“There’s a lot of people that help me with this,” he said, giving a smile to his wife and business partner of 42 years. “I’m so honored to be associated with such an award.

“Mr. Leopold, when he talked about conservation, it is still the same today. Leave more than you take.”

The two other finalists nominated for the award included Laverne Hensen of Mineral Point in Iowa County; and Jeff Lake of Boyceville in Dunn County. Harsdorf commented that the competition for this year’s award was very stiff, something that speaks to the quality of the farmers in our state.

The $10,000 Leopold award, and a crystal depicting Aldo Leopold, will officially be presented to Geiser at the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting on Dec. 2 in Wisconsin Dells.

For more information on the award, please visit

Brooke Bechen  

Rami Aburomia inspected the branches of an apple variety; this winter, on those warmer days, he will be in the orchard trimming and clipping bigger branches in preparation for next year’s apple season.

Pumpkin dump cake

Panel: Progress on ag issues will be slow in deadlocked Congress

The sharply divided government that emerged from this month’s midterm elections will make it hard to get much done for agriculture in the coming months, according to panelists on a Farm Foundation Forum held Nov. 14 in Washington, D.C., and broadcast live online.

Midterm voters elected 435 members of the House, 35 members to the Senate and 36 governors, along with numerous state and local office-holders.

Democrats took control of the House of Representatives and Republicans maintained the Senate, setting up a Congressional standstill. Meanwhile, several big issues critical to food and agriculture, including a new farm bill, trade, immigration and health care, demand attention.

“The next two years will be knock-down, drag-out, brutal, partisan in every way,” said Chris Clayton, agricultural policy editor for DTN/Progressive Farmer.

Clayton said a new farm bill needs to get passed yet this year, if only for the sake of U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, chairman of the House ag committee.

Before the farm bill was drafted, the focus was on protecting crop insurance; it has since shifted to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP benefits.

“House Republicans got exactly what they wanted,” Clayton said. “They wanted a Republican-only farm bill to pass. They didn’t have the foresight to think it wouldn’t carry over and win. They got a partisan bill. They really put themselves in a corner.

“They’ve got no leverage, but they can’t screw around. They have to get it done.”

Teaganne Finn, congressional reporter for Bloomberg Government, said some spots on the ag committee could be filled by Democratic “suburban moms” who don’t care about crop insurance but will want to focus on food stamp and nutrition programs.

If a farm bill gets done on the sooner side, she said, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has indicated a desire to begin fostering young talent on the committee and preparing them to take on bigger roles.

If a farm bill doesn’t pass during the lame-duck session, Clayton said, “the risk becomes greater as you move forward because they’re looking at budget deficits and places to cut.”

Focusing on SNAP cuts puts a big target on crop insurance for next year, he said. House Democrats will scrutinize all this money going out in crop insurance payments.

“House Republicans put themselves in this corner and don’t know how to get out of it,” Clayton said.

Jerry Hagstrom of The Hagstrom Report and The National Journal said the almost $5 billion in trade aid payments to farmers shortly before the election may have played a small role in how the midterms turned out, but they’re really more of a “placeholder” for a more permanent fix later on.

Clayton said the U.S. has only made 4 percent of its usual soybeans sales to China by this point in the year, and bean stockpiles are forming.

“Something needs to happen, particularly in the Dakotas, to move them,” Clayton said. “They need something done by the end of this year or Brazil will come in with their new crop.

“If farmers are still holding these soybeans into spring, we could see … some electoral risk for Trump in 2020. As the margins are, it doesn’t take much to flip some of these states from red to blue.”

Finn agreed that it will be very difficult to get anything done in the next Congress. She added that big changes could be coming on federal appropriations committees, and with Democrats in power in the House, there could be enhanced oversight of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and issues such as food safety.

“That will be an interesting dynamic with a Republican Senate,” Finn said. “There are a lot of big changes coming our way in committee leadership.”

Politico reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich said that, as the situation in Congress remains “dead-locked,” state policies may become more interesting and crucial.

Defining rural voters

Despite a sluggish farm economy and challenges with trade and tariffs, rural America continues to back President Donald Trump, said Sara Wyant, president of Agri-Pulse Communication.

In a poll of some 600 U.S. farmers just before the elections, almost 80 percent indicated that they still are in favor of what the Trump administration is doing.

After the 2016 presidential election, the general media had no choice but to sit up and take note of rural voters, but Hagstrom argues that journalists and politicians must stop talking about rural America as “one thing.”

Rural areas vary widely nationwide and have very different cultures, he said, and “parts of rural states are very much a part of the larger area.” The population of North Dakota, for example, is 55 percent urban and voted overwhelmingly for Democrats.

“In the future, people working on campaigns or analyzing them will have to look into that,” Hagstrom said, “and think about those places as individual places, not as some phenomena in which social conservatism dominates.

“Demographics and issues in North Dakota are very different from California and upstate New York.”

He said political party leaders are not taking the “rural push” very seriously and still heavily skew toward urban voters. This has caused some frustration in the Democratic party, in particular.

However, Democrats could gain ground on trade issues, Hagstrom said.

“If these steel and aluminum tariffs stay on, if there are almost no soybean exports to China, if the rural economy tanks, then I could see these rural states turning to Democrats,” he said. “We could see farmers turn against Republicans.”

Hagstrom said it’s up to everyone involved in agriculture and with an interest in rural America to help educate the national media and politicians about the different segments of rural voters.

“They toss it off too easily,” he said. “I think the media doesn’t completely understand Texas. It’s viewed as totally Republican, but look how close (Democratic Senate candidate) Beto O’Rourke got.”

Not all rural voters are farm voters, Clayton said. In fact, most rural voters don’t work in agriculture.

“We underestimate the mindset of the social issues with rural voters,” including abortion, having a conservative Supreme Court, gun control and immigration, he said. “They can’t be discounted, no matter what is going on with the economy or the farm economy.”

Before the 2016 election, “rural” had not appeared on Politico’s home page, Evich said. More effort is being made to understand those areas, but, she said, “it’s not a monolithic voting block.”

There’s growing interest in breaking down who rural voters are, and while it’s entering the conversation, she said, “it’s maybe not as nuanced as we’d like to read about.”

Committee choices will matter a lot to the new Democrats coming into office, Clayton said. They will need to consider how they can represent their rural constituents, whether it’s on food policy, energy policy or something else.

“Their committee choices are going to set a tone for that,” he said.

Hagstrom said there will be plenty of competition from Democrats to get on the House ag committee, and some Republicans who were re-elected may have to leave the committee because there won’t be enough open slots.

“It will be a very interesting battle,” he said.

Hagstrom said the Democrats coming in as state ag commissioners likely will put increased emphasis on organics and locally produced foods, and they’ll be more involved in issues such as child nutrition and obesity.

Many ag commissioners will have to work through issues surrounding cannabis and the push toward legalization of marijuana, he said.

“Marijuana is becoming a crop in these places. It’s very lucrative for people, but it faces many regulatory issues,” he said, adding, “We know so little about the impact of marijuana from a pharmaceutical standpoint.”

Evich said Oregon’s recreational marijuana market has plateaued, and some of those growers are looking at hemp, not for fiber but for cannabidiol, or CBD, oil for use in alternative medicine.

Many recent ballot initiatives could have implications for rural areas, she said. Michigan voters moved to legalize marijuana and hemp, while Oklahoma and Utah both legalized medical marijuana.

“It’s definitely an issue to watch, and it’s an ag issue,” she said.

Some important ballot initiatives went barely noticed, she said. Among them was the carbon tax debate in Washington State. The initiative failed on a 43-56 vote, but “it was an intense fight,” she said. Washington, as well as Oregon, also considered soda taxes during the midterms.