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JOHN HART, WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL 

Wally, a nearly 2-year-old pig, snuggles up to Kara Breci, who took on Wally last spring after he jumped from a moving trailer after he opened an unsecured gate. Wally could live for another 10 to 12 years and reach 700 pounds. "The first second I saw that pig, I just fell so in love with him," said Breci. "He has this face and these eyes that are staring into your soul."


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11-year-old homeless advocate from Onalaska: Treat everybody equally

The longer Olivia Konrardy-Buchal lives, the bigger dent she might make in the world’s problems, as she develops the habit of chipping away at them — one crisis at a time.

The 11-year-old Onalaska girl has established a tradition of asking people to donate to designated causes instead of giving her presents on her birthday, with the most recent beneficiary being the La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness.

Collaborative officials were so impressed with Olivia’s initiative that they made her an unofficial member, and she readily accepted the task of designing thank you cards to send to donors, said Julie McDermid, the collaborative’s project manager.

“If people need help, I always feel like I should try to help,” explained Olivia, whose birthday is Dec. 30 and who said people have responded well since she conceived her custom four years ago.

“They were excited — they all helped. Every year, I donate something. Last year, it was the (Coulee Region) Humane Society” in Onalaska, said Olivia, a fifth-grader at Eagle Bluff Elementary School.

Olivia’s 10th birthday donations totaled $90, and the year before that, her collection went to orphans in another country. Her $100 tally for the collaborative was the top so far.

Card: 'Thanks for leading way'

“I think everybody should be treated equally,” Olivia said.

Although Olivia’s favorite school subject is science, she doesn’t plan to go into that field, taking a different road diverging in the wood.

“I want to be a pastor,” she said simply.

A member of First Lutheran Church in Onalaska, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Olivia said she has enjoyed Sunday school but also is excited about confirmation training this year.

“I’ve heard a lot of good things,” she said. “It’s more stories than just doing crafts.”

The daughter of Kelly and Tina Konrardy-Buchal, Olivia is handy with the crafts, if the colorful cards she has designed for the collaborative are any indication. They feature messages such as “Thank you for your generous acts” and a particularly telling slogan, “Thank you for leading the way.”

But the humble Olivia downplays her artistic talents, saying, “I’m not that good.”

She plans to design more cards, and the collaborative intends to have them duplicated to send to donors, McDermid said.

Having the young girl as an adjunct member and producing cards is “a neat way of showing that our community has really begun to change the conversation around homelessness,” the project manager said.

Collaborative hits families target

The collaborative just hit another milestone in its wrestling match with homelessness, with the hope of pinning it to the mat for good, McDermid said.

McDermid

The collaborative beat its original target date of Jan. 31 by more than a week to find housing for 10 homeless families within 100 days, she said.

The collaborative, formed last year with the help of New York housing consultant and homelessness expert Erin Healy, sets 100-day targets in what it calls sprints to achieve goals.

The 10 families range from three to five members, and the group has succeeded in housing almost 100 people in its three sprints, including veterans last fall and winter and chronically homeless individuals in the winter and spring.

The collaborative has made those strides largely with the work of volunteers from a broad range of stakeholders, including social and human service agencies, city and county officials and committees, law enforcement, veterans and vets organizations, faith communities and businesses.

The group hired two full-time outreach workers/housing navigators not only to be more readily available to people who need help but also to ease the burden on the volunteers who have toiled for so much time beyond their daytime jobs.

The positions, originally intended to be part time and funded with a private donation, were expanded to full time courtesy of a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, McDermid said.

In training last week to be those outreach workers were Barb Pollack of La Crosse and Doreen Averbeck of West Salem.

“I know what a great need there is out there, and I am drawn to help,” said Pollack, who previously worked for the Great Rivers 2-1-1 crisis line and continues to work part-time as a La Crosse County crisis responder.

Pollack

“Every day I dealt with that,” she said, adding that she expects the outreach will “help the community get in between” circumstances that might lead to homelessness and vulnerable individuals.

Contact, develop relationships

“Everybody has a story, and everybody has different needs, she said. “You’ve got to have a relationship, a first contact, to meet people where they are at.”

Averbeck, who has held a variety of service and retail jobs, said, “We want to be on the ground to help it get off the ground. We want to be able to help them in place, where they feel comfortable.”

Averbeck

Along those lines, the pair’s training has included visiting sites such as the La Crosse Warming Center, the Franciscan Hospitality House, The Salvation Army, RAVE and other places people gather in search of companionship and/or services.

“We’re not going to be in the office. We’ll be going to them,” Pollack said, to which Averbeck added, “We want to break down barriers.”

Eventually, the collaborative’s offices in the building that also houses the Warming Center and some Catholic Charities offices at 413 S. Third St. will have a dedicated phone line for the outreach workers, who also will attend community events and visit jails, hospitals and care centers, McDermid said.

The outreach workers will be able to help people find services to avoid homelessness or, once they have secured housing, to prevent them from sliding back, she said.

The “housing navigator” part of their job descriptions is intended to help people connect with affordable housing, obtain furniture if they don’t have any and get settled in, McDermid said.

Only one of the people the collaborative helped secure housing has not worked out, McDermid said, but she and others are keeping tabs on that person.

Pollack, who has a home in Onalaska but lives at 3 Rivers Scholar House in La Crosse as a mentor/house mother for the single parents who live there while attending college, said that role “is dear to my heart. It’s very important to have housing, and safe housing, so when singling parents are off in class, they don’t have to worry” about their children.

“It lets them reinvent their life, to give them a second time in life,” she said. “That’s a gift.”


7 lawmakers to watch as immigration debate resumes

WASHINGTON (TNS) — Congress will return this week to the political cauldron of immigration policy, and almost every member will claim to be a player.

But realistically, if a deal is reached to protect nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants from deportation, only a few will be able to claim credit.

They represent a range of roles on Capitol Hill: establishment insiders, veteran dealmakers, consensus-builders and unrelenting agitators.

Those members of Congress are hoping to make a deal before Thursday, when much of the government could shut down again.

Democrats want an assurance that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will be preserved as a condition of voting to maintain government funding.

Republicans want a deal, too, to avoid another shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., promised that after the Thursday deadline for avoiding that, he would allow an open debate on the Senate floor on immigration proposals. That will force the Senate to take controversial votes, likely resulting in legislation that might not have enough conservative support to survive in the House or be signed by President Donald Trump.

Chances are, lawmakers won’t agree on an immigration bill in time to beat the March 5 deadline that Trump set to end the DACA program once and for all.

Here are seven lawmakers to watch as the debate unfolds:

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

The White House panned the immigration proposal Graham promoted with Senate Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, which included a path to citizenship for DACA beneficiaries.

But their framework is still being used as a starting point for the nearly 36 senators from both parties who showed up for a meeting Graham convened after the Senate vote to reopen government last month after a three-day shutdown. They have since been meeting nearly every legislative workday to come up with a new framework.

The initial meeting Graham orchestrated was also where the decision was made to use Durbin and his Republican counterpart, Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, as the clearinghouses for negotiating the group’s ideas with other party leaders.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine

Graham convened the meeting to begin immigration negotiations, but it was Collins who first opened her office doors the weekend of the January government shutdown to any senator who wanted to revive federal operations.

Many of these members of her “Common Sense Caucus” have joined the immigration group, which Collins is continuing to host.

If those meetings end, or are permanently moved elsewhere, it could send an important signal about where she ––one of Congress’s most respected moderates and bridge-builders –– thinks the conversations are headed.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.

Just like the end of Collins’s involvement in immigration discussions could signal the deterioration of bipartisan negotiations, Gutierrez’s embrace of an immigration proposal could indicate a breakthrough.

Democrats are struggling with what they’d be willing to accept in an immigration deal. Gutierrez is himself incensed over the White House’s proposal to give all DACA beneficiaries a path to citizenship in exchange for reducing legal immigration to the lowest level in almost a century and erecting a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But Gutierrez, a hero to pro-DACA activists, has also said he’s willing to accept a compromise bill, and if he accepts one, other Democrats might come along, too.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill.

He has fought for years for legislation to protect DACA beneficiaries from deportation, and Democrats continue to be confident that he will be a good-faith negotiator with Republicans. At the same time, fellow Democrats know Durbin won’t sign on to any deal that doesn’t have their support.

Judging by his stone-faced response to Trump’s State of the Union address, it’s clear that Durbin will continue to hold the line for Democrats in the days ahead.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas

In the hours before the government shutdown last month, as lawmakers lobbied McConnell to promise a path forward on immigration so Democrats would vote to keep government open, Cornyn said McConnell should not reward Democrats for “bad behavior.” Last week, Cornyn said he was in “pretty constant” contact with the White House.

Though Cornyn is now one of the negotiators on immigration legislation, he has consistently represented in leadership ranks the voices of conservatives who want a deal aligned with the far-right base. Cornyn could continue to be a voice of reason among Senate Republicans about what can and can’t be accomplished if they want to avoid intraparty warfare.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.

If Cornyn is helping guide Republicans in the Senate, Meadows is helping steer Republicans in the House toward a deal that conservatives can accept. As the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who regularly communicates with members of the Trump administration, Meadows is positioned to provide the pressure necessary to influence House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Meadows wants a vote on legislation from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., which doesn’t have the support to pass in the Senate and might not even have the votes to advance in the House. But if Meadows doesn’t get what he wants, he could mobilize more than three dozen conservatives to revolt.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.

Early public signs that Diaz-Balart was engaging in current immigration negotiations came last month, when he was invited to two Oval Office meetings to discuss the issue. Other than that, he has had a relatively low profile in this round of discussions –– though that is how Diaz-Balart has typically behaved on immigration matters.

In 2014, Diaz-Balart was within striking distance of persuading House Republican leaders to put a comprehensive immigration bill on the floor, an effort that fizzled after the surprise primary defeat of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. Three and a half years later, he could be making moves to build consensus on the issue again.


Activists block light rail carrying spectators to Super Bowl

MINNEAPOLIS — Police on Sunday arrested a group of activists who locked themselves along a light-rail line carrying Super Bowl ticketholders to U.S. Bank Stadium, shutting down trains for more than two hours.

Live footage from the scene showed officers unlocking or cutting through locks the protesters had used to chain themselves to each other and to fencing at the West Bank Station on Metro Transit’s Green Line. The handcuffed protesters were loaded onto a waiting bus.

Metro Transit used buses to ferry passengers around the blockage, and spokesman Howie Padilla said the agency was confident spectators would reach the game before kickoff. The shutdown started about 2:15 p.m., and the stop was finally cleared about two hours later. It wasn’t immediately clear when trains would resume.

Chinyere Tutashinda, a spokeswoman for the activists, said they were protesting police brutality, as well as the light-rail lines being set aside solely for Super Bowl ticketholders on Sunday. Non-ticketholders had to use buses instead.

The Green and Blue lines were a major route for many fans to get to Sunday’s game, with security screening done before passengers boarded.

The light-rail shutdown came as Black Lives Matter and several other groups staged rallies and a march Sunday to protest police brutality and corporate greed. About 300 people gathered at a park a couple of miles south of the stadium, and planned a march that would have them arrive at the stadium near 5 p.m.


Chris O'Meara 

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith (82) runs against New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty (32), during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 52 football game, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)


Oversupply of milk, low prices cause concern for area dairy farmers

Dairy farmers faced tight margins for the past couple years and another predicted year of low milk prices is causing even more concern for the whole dairy industry.

Recent milk production numbers from the United States Department of Agriculture’s website show the United States dairy industry will produce an estimated 218.8 billion pounds of milk this year. While it’s a 0.5 billion pound reduction than what was predicted at the end of 2017, prices continue to drop because the demand for US dairy products are low.

“It’d be just like if you cut your take home pay from your own job,” said Mike Enge, who is the owner of a third generation 700 dairy cow operation in Sauk Prairie. “Where are you going to make ends meet? Well, you got to do what you can and that’s basically the scenario we’re in right now.”

Lower paychecks mean dairy farmers have to make sacrifices on their operation and watch more carefully on where they spend every dollar. While the milk prices has fluctuated, other costs like feed, facility and labor costs on dairy operations have not changed.

“A few years ago, this price was approximately $23. It’s a significant loss and the costs, they do not go down,” said Joan Holig of Cattail Dairy in Mauston. “We have significantly more costs. Each year the prices of everything seem to continually go up, but the milk price does not follow.”

While farmers remain optimistic the market will improve and continue doing what they can to watch their expenses, federal and state legislation is working to create an improved protection program for dairy farmers.

Oversupply

One reason for the oversupply comes from the limited amount of exports currently available to ship dairy products as well as a decrease in domestic demand.

“Our supply is high, demand is not growing fast enough to use up the supply, therefore prices will be suppressed,” said UW-Columbia County Agriculture Educator George Koepp.

An article from the Wisconsin State Journal by Larry Avila said Canada implemented a new pricing structure which increased the price of United States dairy exports and encouraged the purchase of Canadian dairy products. As a result, Grassland Dairy Products, located in Greenwood, sent a letter to over 70 dairy farmers telling them they would no longer be accepting milk from their operation.

Mark Heinze was one of those farmers who received the letter in his mailbox. While he was in shock, he had little time to mourn. He had 30 days find another buyer who would take his milk on his 300 dairy cow operation in Portage. He was able to find another buyer a couple weeks after receiving the letter.

“It’s a real eye opener about some of the problems in the industry where there really is too much supply of milk,” Heinze said.

Koepp called what happened with Grassland Diary Products a “small reaction of the market to overproduction and lower demand.” It also provided a glimpse of the fierce competition global markets are currently facing with dairy products, especially with countries with low milk production costs.

“We’ve got to compete with New Zealand and Australia for some of the Chinese market,” Koepp said. “The European market is not very open to the U.S. because they’ve got more milk than they need.”

Renk Professor of Agribusiness Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Brian Gould said something that “put a strain on the world’s dairy market” was when the European Union lifted its milk quotas in 2015. This created not only an oversupply of dairy products in Europe, but also creating more competition with other countries for dairy product exports. Gould said the exchange rate also plays a factor in the demand for dairy products.

“If the dollar exchange rate goes up our exports become more expensive and there’s a lot of other people exporting dairy products in the world,” Gould said.

Overproduction

Another reason for the oversupply is also the overproduction and having too much supply of dairy products. While the number of farms has decreased, milk production per cow has increased.

According to Gould’s website Understanding Dairy Markets in 2016, annual milk production per cow in Wisconsin was 23,552 pounds of milk, higher than the national average of 22,770 pounds per cow. In 2006, the annual national milk production per cow was 19,895 pounds while milk production per cow in Wisconsin was 18,824 pounds. In 2006, there were over 14,000 dairy farms in Wisconsin in operation compared over 9,000 in 2016.

The reason for the overproduction with fewer farms is that dairy farmers produce milk more efficiently, utilizing components like genetics, feed and atmosphere management as well as replacing older cows with a less efficient yield with younger cows with a higher production yield.

To make his cattle more efficient, Mike Turner of Baraboo starting breeding cattle through artificial insemination using genetics in 2009 when he started to manage the herd of what was then his father’s 100 dairy cow farm. It wasn’t only the use of genetics, but also a change in feeds rations that he said made his cattle more efficient in milk production. He said these changes caused close to a 400,000 pound increase the year Turner took over the farm with the same number of cows on their operation. The operation now produces around 6,500 pounds of milk a day.

“I was making stuff more consistent for the animals,” said Turner, whose also the president of the Sauk County Farm Bureau. “We don’t push our animals by any means. For what I am feeding the cows they are actually giving more milk than the ration supports. An animal that stays healthier longer has a longer life.”

Ralph Levzcow, who son Kenneth will be the fourth generation of their 170 dairy cow operation in Wyocena, said the lower prices forces farmers to become more efficient.

“You’re trying to balance your rations so you get the most out of your cows and you want to get the most production you can per cow,” Levzcow said.

His wife, Becky, whose on the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board for Columbia and Dodge County and was recently appointed to the National Milk Marketing Board, also described about management dairy farmers have taken on their operation to further increase the milk productivity of their herd as well as create healthy and longer living cattle.

“We’ve gone to where a lot of the farms now have three cell barns,” Becky Levzcow said. “They have better ventilation, better atmosphere for the cows to live in. You work very closely with a veterinarian on a health program because a healthy animal produces more products.”

Making sacrifices

With milk prices dropping, farmers have had to take a closer look at their expenses and make decisions about what to sacrifice in terms of updating equipment and in some cases switching processors.

Turner said with the low milk prices he’s finding ways to save money on fertilizer and seed for crops as well as personal expenses like satellite television and not seeing his wife’s family in Westfield as much.

“Basically, it’s cutting back some of that stuff people take for granted that you normally don’t think about,” Turner said. “I’ve been running everything pretty tight as it was.”

Sarah Lloyd and her husband, Nels Nelson, is a part of a 350 dairy operation east of the Wisconsin Dells. She said recent milk prices have not only made it difficult to cover the cost of production but also cover unexpected expenses.

“My husband and I had to put a new furnace in our house this year and when there’s no money in the family business it’s difficult to cover those larger, unexpected expenses,” Lloyd said.

In addition to a base price for milk, dairy farmers receive an incentive for components like high butterfat, protein percentage and other components. However, the oversupply not only affects the base price, it also affects how much is offered for incentives.

In an average year, Kenneth Nolden, who owns a 150 dairy cow operation in Rock Springs, produces over 3.6 million pounds of milk annually, around 9,900 pounds a day. Nolden said his “take home average” was around $16.84 per cwt of milk in 2017. He estimated premiums were about 60 cents per 100 pounds lower in 2017, contributing to around $21,000 less in his take home pay last year.

“That’s the margin between just scratching by and having nothing and having a decent year,” Nolden said.

While he said he’s making a profit on his farm, with an estimated $50,000 of income and $48,000 of expenses he said margins can get tight. In order to obtain a wider profit margin, Nolden said he will be downsizing to a smaller cooperative that offers a higher incentive for milk contents. He hopes the switch will contribute an estimated $30,000 to his annual income in incentives. However, he said the switch doesn’t guarantee he will have an increase in profit.

“That’s a bit of a risk to make that decision,” Nolden said.

Enge said their operation plans to cut back inputs on fertilizer and buying cheaper seed for feed. He said they won’t cut back on milk production, a lesson he learned from 2009 when prices dropped to around $9 per cwt. During that time, Enge said they cut back on milk production and ended up losing close to $1,000 a day on his operation.

“What we did was we pulled out all the goodies,” Enge said. “That’s what we learned from 2009 is don’t do anything that hurts your milk production. That’s what we’re going to do this year too, cut back in other places but don’t cut back where you think you are going to lose milk production.”

While premiums are low, Enge said it’s the only component they can control in terms of increasing their milk check. Enge said raising butterfat components by one tenth of a point amounts to a 25 cent per cwt increase in pay. If his operation lowers the somatic cell count by 16 points it amounts to a five cent increase per cwt.

“It may not sound like much,” Enge said. “But with today’s tight margins it may make the difference of profit or loss at the end of the month.”

Providing security

While farmers keep an eye on their expenses and focus on incentives, state and federal legislatures are working to try to address providing more security to farmers while the dairy industry is finding new exports and uses for products.

A bill introduced late last year in the state senate is hoping to create some flexibility for Wisconsin dairy farmers. Introduced by State Sen. Howard Marklien, R-Spring Green, Senate Bill 599 makes changes to the Agricultural Producer Security Program administered by the Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection and will allow dairy farmers defer a portion of their pay for up to 120 days. Marklien said it could reach the Senate floor this month or next month and head to Gov. Scott Walkers desk for signing.

Marklien said the bipartisan bill would give farmers the “flexibility they do not currently have right now.”

“In years when prices are really, really good there are farmers who have wanted that option to delay some of that income into the following year,” Marklien said. “Current statues do not allow them to do that.”

On the federal level, United States Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, has been pushing for a better Dairy Margin Protection Program in the 2018 Farm Bill. While there was a dairy margin protection program passed in the 2014 Farm Bill, Baldwin said the program “hasn’t been working as well as it should.”

“Farmers have been paying in but it hasn’t provided the meaningful insurance coverage that they want and we need to fix that as soon as possible,” Baldwin said.

Looking forward

Focusing on exports and finding new markets has been a major focus in addressing the oversupply of dairy in hopes of increasing milk prices. But it’s something Koepp said isn’t going to happen overnight.

“We’ve got to try and increase market share and come up with products that people will buy that are dairy products find some new uses and manage the supply, demand situation,” Koepp said.

Becky Levzcow said the Milk Marketing Board at the state and national level has been increasing the promotion to spread awareness of the value of Wisconsin dairy products at a domestic level to restaurants, delis as well as working with dietitians and attending trade shows to not only increase domestic consumption, but also focus on obtaining additional exports.

Research is also being conducted to find ways to expand the uses of dairy products. Levzcow said there’s ways the market is working on expanding its uses in the pharmacy industry by using components of dairy products in coating of pills and researching about the benefits of adding dairy components, like whey, into nutrition drinks and health products.

“There’s a lot of different applications for the use of dairy products,” Becky Levzcow said. “Right now it’s just a challenge trying to find a market for all of this milk … we have a lot of surplus out there.”

However, behind the economics, trade, politics and concern facing the industry, area dairy farmers continue to work hard and remain optimistic the markets will one day improve.

“We just deal with the low times and hope we get good times again soon,” Kenneth Levzcow said. “You just keep working at it.”


McDermid