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DATCP names Youth Council members

Lauren Thompson was clicking around the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection website when she came across the announcement of the formation of the Wisconsin Agriculture Youth Council.

Thompson, a senior at Baldwin-Woodville High School, was on the DATCP website because of her role on the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity. But she recognized the new opportunity immediately.

“I saw the announcement and thought, ‘Wow, I want to do that,’” Thompson said. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with 14 other youth who have a passion for agriculture and agriculture officials on how we can impact the agriculture industry in the future.”

DATCP Secretary-designee Randy Romanski announced the 15 members of the Wisconsin Agriculture Youth Council Sept. 10.

Members will serve a one-year term, receiving a certificate of completion at the end of their service.

Members include Chad Achenbach of Eastman, Haley Beukema of New Richmond, Hannah Dahl of Columbus, Charles Fahey of Sussex, Kendra Goplin of Osseo, Samantha Hammiller of Burlington, Abigail Helbach of Amherst, Sophia Larson of Reedsburg, Adaire MacSwain of Hudson, Jamison Meier of Windsor, Natalie Ott of Berlin, Natalie Roe of Monticello, Drew Tuttle of Drummond, Randy Winch of Fennimore and Thompson.

“These students are outstanding representatives of the future of Wisconsin agriculture, and their insights will be incredibly valuable to our department and the entire industry,” Romanski said. “We are excited to engage with these young people to promote agricultural career opportunities, share resources available for farmers, and discuss agricultural policy development.”

The purpose of the Wisconsin Agriculture Youth Council is to encourage young people to engage with state government and increase their awareness of DATCP’s interactions with Wisconsin’s agriculture industry. Council members will, beginning this week, attend monthly virtual sessions, hearing presentations and engaging in discussion.

“We’re really proud to see the distribution of the students from around the state,” Romanski said. “We’re excited about the broad spectrum of the world of agriculture that they bring. Their insights are going to be incredibly valuable to our department and, and we are looking forward to engaging with these young people to promote agricultural career opportunities, talk about resources that are available for farmers and discuss a cultural policy development.”

Thompson is a member of the Baldwin-Woodville FFA chapter and is the youth president of the Wisconsin 4-H Leadership Council. She lives on her family’s hobby farm in Woodville with registered Percheron draft horses, sheep and poultry.

She said her membership on the Wisconsin Agriculture Youth Council and the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity, where she is the only youth member, are her way of looking to give back to the agriculture industry after she ages out of 4-H and FFA.

“The industry has definitely changed my life, and now I can’t imagine life without it,” she said. “I feel very fortunate to have the chance to work with such great people in the ag industry.

“Agriculture has given so much to me, I want to give back and learn more about the industry.”

For more information about the Wisconsin Agriculture Youth Council, visit Follow the hashtag #WIAgYouthCouncil on social media for updates throughout the year.

Commission on Rural Prosperity

The Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity has continued to meet virtually during the coronavirus pandemic, and written comments can be provided to the commission until Sept. 30.

“One of the things that that the Blue Ribbon Commission has heard thus far is the importance of public and private partnerships as we look at the opportunities for real prosperity across Wisconsin,” Romanski said. “They’ve also talked about the great opportunities in our rural communities, and they’ve again stressed the need for broadband connectivity for farms, businesses, residents and students.”

Romanski said the commission has also heard from participants about the importance of of education and training to prepare people for careers in agriculture.

The commission was created in January by Gov. Tony Evers to gather on-the-ground input from stakeholders throughout the state whose lives and livelihoods are tied to the vitality of the state agriculture industry, rural businesses and rural communities.

Thompson, the youngest member on the commission, said the group has already gathered a good amount of information about ways to assist rural communities.

“I feel fortunate as the only youth on the commission to be able to facilitate conversations about policy and change,” she said. “We’ve had amazing conversations with people from rural communities to see what they need to build successful communities.”

Information on the commission can be found on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s website at

A great blue heron surveys the surrounding water north of Two Rivers in eastern Wisconsin.

Finding stillness in the storm

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …

With those famous words, Charles Dickens opened his classic novel, which, if you read no further, might very well be a book about camping.

Ah, camping! The foolhardiest of summer traditions! The chance to dust off the tent, unfurl the sleeping bags, and pretend, for a brief moment, that we enjoy the outdoors.

Of course, all the better if you actually do. And I do. I think. When all the conditions are right.

All the conditions certainly seemed right that Monday afternoon in late August, as my eldest children and I pulled into our luxuriously sized campsite at Coon Fork Campground 30 miles to the east of Eau Claire. Standing at the edge of our site, we peered out at the glistening 62-acre lake stretched before us, while overhead, the birds welcomed us with song. My 8-year-old shimmed beneath my left arm, my 6-year-old daughter took refuge beneath my right. Together, we all inhaled a gallon-sized breath of cool, Wisconsin air.

It was the best of times, indeed.

Right up until the storm struck a few hours later, sending us speeding back to the comforts of our home.

Warm beds never felt so good.

Returning to our site the following morning, I was relieved to find that the weather gods had taken pity on us. Our tent had not become a houseboat as I’d feared, merely a waterbed. No matter. It was nothing 10 absorbent towels couldn’t fix.

Plus, it gave our trip purpose, while also providing me the opportunity to use the phrase, “It builds character,” more than my children cared to hear.

Our return to Coon Fork the morning following the storm came with an added challenge: our 9-month-old baby, who was destined to enjoy her first day of camping while my wife was at work. Perhaps “enjoy” is too strong a word. Perhaps “endure” is more accurate.

Endure she did, suffering little more than a forehead scrape after a topple from the cooler while Daddy attempted (and eventually succeeded!) in putting out an unplanned fire emanating from the cook stove.

Best of times, indeed.

Following the storm, and the fire, and the fall, we were treated to yet another character-building activity later that afternoon, when my son fired a wayward foam arrow into the uppermost branches of the tallest pine on planet Earth. His lip trembled, his eyes grew wet.

“Never fear,” I said. “This looks like a job for Super Dad!”

Unfortunately, Super Dad had a previous engagement.

Returning to my caveman roots, I reached for every rock in sight, then began hurling them indiscriminately toward the treetops, only to be reminded — moments later — that the laws of gravity remained intact, despite what that foam arrow suggested. After dodging the rock shower, I turned my attention to a nearby football.

“Watch and learn,” I said with the confidence of a man sure to make a fool of himself. I threw a perfect spiral, which landed — and held — in the outstretched arms of that tree.

More determined than ever, I next threw the Frisbee, then the lantern, then my car keys, until, at last, that white pine began resembling a Christmas tree displayed in a sporting goods store.

(Just kidding, I had the good sense to stop at the football.)

Rather than catapult more camping gear, I returned to my rock hurling. At last, one struck true, felling that football to the ground, and instilling within me enough character to last a lifetime.

When my wife and the puppy pulled into our campsite moments later, she witnessed a scene pulled not from the pages of Dickens, but William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies.” We were scraped, sunburned, hungry, tired, and maybe a little feral, too.

“How’s it … going?” she asked. The baby wailed.

Sometime after midnight, we woke to the sound of a pack of interloping raccoons slurping the dregs of our Arizona Iced Tea. That wasn’t a problem. The problem was taking place inside the tent, where my wife searched frantically in the dark for a diaper.

We searched by cellphone glow as the baby’s discomfort grew.

“I think one’s in the van,” my wife whispered at last. Sighing, I untangled myself from my sleeping bag, high-stepped over the snoozing puppy, tripped on the lip of the tent, tipped my hat to the guzzling raccoons round the campfire, and retrieved the diaper as directed. Then I reversed course — past those raccoons, over the tent lip, and atop that snoozing puppy. Proudly, I handed the diaper to my wife.

“And the wipes?” she asked.

That night, the stars hung low in the sky, detailing a near-perfect constellation map which had captured my son’s attention for the last half an hour before bed. I’d pointed out every constellation I knew, then fabricated a few others just to hold us there awhile longer.

After retrieving the wipes, I lingered, once more, on the edge of that star-filled lake, listening to the nighttime serenade which we city folks are quick to forget: the thrum of locusts, or crickets, or some other insect I probably couldn’t name.

It wasn’t the sound, but the stillness, that stays with me. We had reached the last gasp of summer, the proverbial “calm-before-the-fall storm.” And this fall, that “storm” was looking stormier than usual.

For months, my wife and I — along with every other parent we knew — had tied ourselves in knots trying to decide on the safest way to educate our children in the time of a pandemic. Given that my wife and I are both teachers ourselves, we knew that keeping the kids home would hardly protect them. And so, we’d mask them up, remind them that six feet is the length of a pool noodle, and send them off to school. And then, we’d wait. And hope that the pandemic gods were as merciful as the weather ones.

But for that brief, still moment alongside the lake, all future anxieties were put on hold. For that moment, all I had to worry about was whether those boorish raccoons would remember to clean up their empties.

I took in one last gallon-sized breath before returning to the tent, where, upon entering, I saw my entire world snoozing safely together. I reached for my sleeping bag, only to find that the puppy had since claimed it as his own.

Well played, dog, well played …

Finding a spot on the tent’s damp floor, I reached for a towel, closed my eyes, and smiled.

It was the best of times, indeed.

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Harvest season presents risks to farmers' safety

Fall can be a dangerous time to be a farmer.

With corn silage harvest already weeks underway in parts of the state and other parts of the fall harvest rapidly nearing, more and more hazardous situations are liable to pop up.

From perhaps relatively minor slips and falls while getting on or off equipment to often seriously dangerous roadway collisions or tractor rollovers, farm-related injuries can cost operators time, money or, in worst-case scenarios, even their lives.

And these farm accidents are by no means an uncommon occurrence.

“I don’t know of a farm family that doesn’t have some kind of story of injury,” said Shelly Mayer, a dairy farmer and executive director of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin.

Mayer relayed her own family’s farm accident story during the Sept. 9 PDPW Dairy Signal webinar, talking about an accident she remembered from her childhood of seeing her father come into the house with a missing index finger — able to be reattached — and two other injured fingers after an incident while working with a blower during chopping season. Mayer helped her father wrap dish towels around the injury before helping him get to her mother out in the field, who took her father to the hospital for care.

While Mayer’s father’s case was “just a matter of some digits,” the recovery was still a long process, she said.

One in five Midwestern farms will have injury in 2020, said John Shutske, professor, agricultural health and safety specialist and director of the UW Center for Agricultural Safety & Health. Of those injuries, 80% will require medical care.

The bad news statistics don’t stop there.

Farmers also have a workplace death rate of 22 per 100,000, a rate that is seven times higher than that for general industry, Shutske said during the Sept. 9 webinar.

While they may be jarring, statistics aren’t the whole story either, though.

“This is not just about data or statistics or numbers,” Shutske said. “We’re talking about people.”

Implementing key safety steps on the farm can help protect those people, both on and off the farm.

Roadway collisions, which are becoming quite prevalent, Shutske said, are one of few ag safety items that is also a public safety issue.

Farmers can do their part to help avoid these generally “catastrophic” collisions by making themselves as visible as possible and when possible, avoiding or minimizing being on roadways in low-light situations, Shutske said.

“It’s almost impossible to light yourself up too much,” he said.

Farmers are advised to check with their state department of transportation for minimum requirements, as well as be aware of any applicable national requirements, especially as they apply to newer machinery.

Tractor rollovers are another major farm safety issue and rank high on the list of causes of death for farmers, Shutske said.

Most at risk for rollovers are older machines, those with narrow front ends and those with a bucket loader or other high center or gravity, Shutske said.

Experienced drivers are also at higher risk when it comes to rollovers, Shutske said, noting that the “experienced” descriptor was not a typo and suggesting that complacency or a slower reaction time could be responsible.

Limiting exposure on pre-rollover-protection-structure machinery, using care when loading onto a trailer, retrofitting older equipment with ROPS when possible and considering a myriad of factors when determining the level of risk when driving on a slope can help prevent deaths, Shutske said.

Equipment fires can also prove to be dangerous, especially in the midst of chopping and combining.

Shutske recommended that farmers go into the engine compartments, where most fires start, of their equipment, especially choppers and combines, daily to clear out any material that may have accumulated and to remedy any fluid leaks before doing anything else. He also recommended that equipment have not one but two ABC dry chemical fire extinguishers, weighing at least 10 pounds, on hand.

Not every farm accident is as “dramatic” as roadway collisions or rollovers, but even so, they can still cause a considerable amount of difficulty for farmers to deal with, Shutske said.

Injuries resulting from fatigue, mounting or dismounting equipment, lack of training or mistaken assumptions can also happen quickly and result in potentially life-long consequences, whether they’re financial, physical or otherwise, he said.

Taking breaks; making equipment modifications, such as extra step, when needed for stability; and creating open lines of communication are ways to decrease those kinds of risks.

Among the best steps farmers can take right now as harvest season gets underway is to do a walk-through with anyone who is going to be using equipment on the farm to make sure everything is safe and everyone is clear on their responsibilities, Shutske said.

Still, while taking steps to prevent mishaps on the farm can go a long way toward decreasing the likelihood of one occurring, farmers will continue to be faced with the fact that not every accident is going to be 100% preventable.

“Things do happen,” Shutske said.

National Farm Safety & Health Week is Sept. 20-26, following the theme “Every Farmer Counts.” For more information on ag safety in Wisconsin, visit Shutske can also be reached with questions at