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Coming to town: Santa, Mrs. Claus make early stop in Eleva

ELEVA — Snow can make travel hazardous, but some modes of transportation do better than others in wintry conditions.

“The reindeer love it,” Santa Claus said Dec. 14 as he and Mrs. Claus were preparing to get some last-minute gift ideas from good little girls and boys.

Every year on the second Saturday in December, Santa and Mrs. Claus set up shop in the loft of Schultz’s Country Barn, 50996 N. Main St., Eleva. Mr. and Mrs. Claus have trekked to the Country Barn each December for 14 years, Mrs. Claus said.

With Santa’s toy factory based at the North Pole, making the trip to Eleva can sometimes be a challenge.

“The reindeer only fly on Christmas Eve,” Santa said. “The rest of the year we have to make our way down on dog sleds, planes and trains.”

This year, the Clauses were able to make the final leg of the trip in a red Ford F-150.

Other years they aren’t so lucky.

Carlene Schultz, who operates Schultz’s Country Barn with her husband, Duane, said one year Santa and Mrs. Claus were forced to bring their snowmobiles when 20 inches of snow the night before the event made travel difficult.

“We still had a line of people wanting to see them,” she said.

Schultz said the visit by Santa and Mrs. Claus has become an annual tradition for many families and she’s always happy to get the Clauses to come despite their busy schedules.

“They’re such a sweet couple,” Schultz said. “They’re just the best.”

Schultz said the visit by Santa and Mrs. Claus can draw hundreds of kids, all of whom are given a gift bag for visiting the store.

Schultz’s Country Barn gift shop opened Sept. 30, 2006. Duane’s father bought the farm in 1947, and the family milked about 50 head of cows on the farm until 1995. The family had sold pumpkins out of a shed on the farm since 1969 and decided to expand that venture in the early 2000s when they, with the help of their extended family, renovated the barn.

The family rents out the hayloft for weddings, barn dances and other events.

For more information, visit https://schultzscountrybarn.com.

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DATCP board to let livestock siting scope expire

MADISON — After a mandatory review of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s livestock siting rule, the DATCP board will let the scope statement of the rule expire, with no immediate plans to revisit or revise it.

“I hope there are some things we could do differently if we do this again,” said DATCP board member Andy Diercks at their final meeting of 2019 on Dec. 12.

He added that the agency and board both struggled to find balance between the demands of industry and the public, as well as what was best for the environment, when revising the controversial rule.

On Feb. 4, 2020, the 30 months allotted to the rule making process will end, ultimately ending discussion around ATCP51, an administrative rule that regulates the local government approval for new or expanding livestock facilities in Wisconsin — for now. Unless directed by the DATCP board or Wisconsin legislature, the agency will wait until 2022 to review and revisit the rule again.

This comes after DATCP staff reviewed hundreds of comments that had been submitted and shared at public hearings this past summer, presenting their revisions to the rule to the board during a special meeting in late October. A little over a week after revisions had been reviewed by the board, the vote to submit those revisions was unexpectedly tabled by former secretary-designee Brad Pfaff just days before the DATCP board was scheduled to vote on it.

The livestock siting rule endured push back from several agriculture groups, including the Dairy Business Association, Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, Wisconsin Farm Bureau, Cooperative Network, Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association and Wisconsin Dairy Products Association.

These organizations argued that the rule and proposed changes to the rule would further hurt Wisconsin’s dairy farmers and industry by imposing impractical and unworkable requirements, particularly relating to odor setbacks.

Sara Walling, administrator of DATCP’s division of Agricultural Resource Management, said her department will be looking broadly at stakeholder engagement and the process as a whole if and when they receive another scope statement relating to ATCP51. Her department will also be hiring a replacement for Chris Clayton, who served as DATCP program manager of livestock facility siting. Clayton was one of the lead contacts for the livestock siting rule.

“We learned a lot, and a lot has changed,” said Angela James, DATCP deputy secretary. “We’re going to work off what we learned.”

Diercks hinted that the DATCP board may be interested in revisiting the rule again in April, May or June of 2020. However, James cautioned them as once they start the process by submitting the scope statement, the 30-month clock starts ticking for the rule making process.

“Our team will be available as resources to the DATCP board as you decide where you’d like to go,” said Randy Romanski, interim DATCP secretary.

The state’s livestock siting rule went into effect in 2006 and hasn’t been changed since its adoption. The administrative rule is required to be reviewed by the department every four years, with technical committees undertaking this review in 2010, 2014 and in 2018.

For more up-to-date information on ATCP51, visit datcp.wi.gov/Pages/Programs_Services/LSRuleRevision.aspx.

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Hemp industry sees growth; challenges remain

Not only did farmers trying their hand at growing industrial hemp have to deal with the hazards associated with navigating a fledgling industry and a challenging growing season, but many are facing difficulties finding a market for their products.

UW-Extension Buffalo County Agriculture Educator Carl Duley said he spoke with about a dozen of the growers who attended two Hemp Education and Networking Opportunities meetings held in early December in western Wisconsin who had grown for CBD oil in 2019. At that time, only one of those growers had their product sold, Duley said.

“There’s lots of interest in CBD oil plants. There’s some concern about the market though: Is the market mature or organized enough yet? And we don’t have good answers on that yet,” he said. “This isn’t historically a new crop, but as far as where we are in are in marketing, it truly is a new crop for us.”

There are three different possible products from hemp: the fiber/stalks, the seeds in the flower and oils. Duley said grain and fiber varieties of hemp are drawing less interest from growers than CBD varieties at this point.

“That makes sense because there really are very, very few markets at this point in time for hemp grain and hemp fiber,” Duley said.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection saw a six-fold increase in the amount of farmers registered to grow industrial hemp in the second year of the state’s pilot program that established rules for growing the crop that was legalized with the passing of ATCP 22 in 2017.

This year the state had 1,247 growers and 556 processors who were licensed and registered, according to Brian Kuhn, director of DATCP’s Plant Industry Bureau. Of those, about 850 growers reported actually planting a crop.

About 5,000 acres of hemp were planted this year in both fields and greenhouses throughout the state, up significantly from the first year of the program, according to Sara Walling, DATCP’s Division of Agricultural Resource Management administrator.

But the crop has no established market and it comes with a high cost to establish, grow, harvest, and convert the into a marketable product.

Prices for hemp flower, grain, fiber, oils and CBD fluctuate widely in the U.S. because the industry is in a very early stage and constantly developing, and DATCP recommends growers research available markets before planting. The state will have to develop processing facilities.

Growers who are unwilling or unable to sell their hemp at the end of the growing season have several options, including requesting permission from DATCP to destroy or burn the crop, plow it under or compost it. If the crop has tested at 0.3% THC or lower, growers are allowed to bale and store it.

Under current law, growers must destroy their crop at any location where samples test above the 0.3% THC threshold. Of approximately 2,200 hemp samples taken this year, about 13% of the samples resulted in crop destruction.

Duley said he hopes research into different hemp varieties next year is able to address a possible correlation between high CBD levels with increased THC content.

“We don’t have very good data on this, but there’s some indication that once the CBD level in the plants gets to a certain level, it seems like almost universally, the THC in those plants gets high also,” Duley said. “That’s pretty variety-dependent, so people have to be pretty careful with the varieties they purchase.”

Duley said weather can also play a role in bumping THC levels up to above the 0.3% threshold.

“As harvest gets delayed, if you delay too long, the THC levels tend to go up a little bit,” Duley said. “That’s a concern, especially in years like we had this year with wet weather.”

Duley in Buffalo County and Chippewa County UW-Extension Agriculture Agent Jerry Clark participated in what was a total of four industrial hemp trial field sites across the state. Fifteen varieties of mostly grain and dual-purpose grain and fiber varieties of industrial hemp were grown on the test site as researchers attempt to eventually identify the best options for growers.

Duley said hemp loves heat and needs a fair amount of moisture and nitrogen, based on the first year of trials from the county plots.

“The site in Chippewa County had a little bit better weather — a little more sunshine, a little more heat and a little less rain — than we had at our Buffalo County site,” Duley said. “The plant is like alfalfa, is what I tell folks, in that they don’t like to have wet feet. They need plenty of moisture, but they don’t like waterlogged soils.”

The Buffalo County plot came up well right after planting in mid-June, Duley said, but during a two-week stretch of rain and cool temperatures, weeds took off, overrunning the site.

“The hemp doesn’t grow very well in cooler temperatures,” Duley said. “The information is pretty clear from other states that have been doing research longer than us that delaying the planting until you’re pretty sure you’re going to get some heat is a good idea.”

Duley said the fertilizer and seeding-rate trials in Buffalo County had to be destroyed after the weeds took over the site. Strip trials of grain and dual-purpose grain and fiber varieties had better luck, but rain during the time they should have been harvesting prevented them from taking grain yields, he said.

“By the time it dried off enough that we could machine harvest, the birds had pretty much decimated the population out there,” Duley said. “Either the grain was eaten or it was knocked off the heads by the time we were able to harvest.”

Biomass harvesting in those strips produced between 4,000 pounds and 11,000 pounds.

“There was huge variation in the dual-purpose varieties,” he said. “There’s a couple varieties that we’ll try to do a little larger planting next year and with different weather conditions than we had this year, hopefully.

“In some ways, I’m glad I’m focusing on grain and fiber. Because we don’t really have markets, we have a little time to learn more.”

Duley recommends potential growers get their permits in order and then test things out with a small plot in their first year with the crop.

“I talked to one grower who did 150 plants, and they said after the amount of labor it took, and not having a market for it, they’re not sure they’re going to jump into it any bigger than that yet,” he said. “The markets are a little uncertain, but there are some markets out there. But until they could get large enough to mechanize, they don’t have the labor to do it.”

Hemp licensing applications and registrations for the 2020 Wisconsin growing season opened Nov. 1. The deadline for current licensees to renew their registration is March 1. New licensees can apply at any time during the year. For more information, visit https://datcp.wi.gov/Pages/Programs_Services/IndustrialHemp.aspx.

“People have a little time, so they don’t need to panic,” Duley said. “But if you’re going to order plants, you can’t wait; you probably need to be doing CBD plants in January.”

Winter came early to the Yellowstone area this season. This frost-covered bison made his way along the Yellowstone River.