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La Crosse area farmers near finish line in corn and soybean fields
Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Farmers harvest corn Tuesday in a town of Shelby field, east of La Crosse. U.S. corn production is estimated at 14.6 billion bushels this fall, the second-largest crop on record.

A wintry patch of weather that included a bit of snow cover last week slowed farmers trying to get the last of their crops off Coulee Region fields.

Crop farmers are dealing this Thanksgiving with a bit of good news on the pricing side of the equation, but slight improvements this month in futures markets have been driven by the news that big crops aren’t quite as big as previously expect.

Cold and dry weather helped Wisconsin farmers do plenty of field work last week, but some areas still had slow going thanks to snow on the ground and fields not totally frozen.

The crop progress report from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service for the week ending Sunday said five of seven days were suitable for field work, with light precipitation toward the end of the week.

“Muddy fields firmed considerably as the ground started to freeze, particularly in northern Wisconsin,” the report said. “However, the frost was still shallow in many areas, keeping fields treacherous for heavy machinery and fully-loaded grain wagons.”

Snow on the ground hampered combining for some farmers, and partially-frozen ground made it difficult to complete fall tillage and manure spreading in other areas, the report said.

Corn harvested for grain was 80 percent off the field, with the moisture content at 18 percent. Soybeans were 91 percent harvested, and fall tillage was 58 percent complete.

Soil moisture conditions remained on the positive side, with both subsoil and topsoil moisture rated at 99 percent adequate to surplus.

The report noted there was “some harvesting early in the week” in La Crosse County before “snow and cold arrived later in the week, shutting down or significantly slowing field work.”

“Farmers (were) struggling to keep the harvest rolling between cold and snow,” the report said of Trempealeau County, where “dryer inefficiency with these cold temperatures adds an additional insult to the cost of corn production.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says farmers are expected to harvest the largest soybean crop on record as soybean acreage topped corn acreage for the first time ever, but they’re dealing with a constricted market in which to sell the crop because of the United States’ tariff battle with China.

Despite downgrading yield expectations this month, the USDA nonetheless places the expected U.S. soybean harvest at 4.6 billion bushels, the largest ever.

Selling soybeans to China has nearly halted with the tariff dispute resulting in a growing stockpile and the lowest prices for farmers in more than a decade.

U.S. corn production is estimated at 14.6 billion bushels, the second-largest crop on record.

400 years later, natives who helped Pilgrims gain a voice

PLYMOUTH, Mass. — The seaside town where the Pilgrims came ashore in 1620 is gearing up for a 400th birthday bash, and everyone’s invited — especially the native people whose ancestors wound up losing their land and lives.

Plymouth whose European settlers have come to symbolize American liberty and grit, marks its quadricentennial in 2020 with a trans-Atlantic commemoration that will put Native Americans’ unvarnished side of the story on full display.

“It’s history. It happened,” said Michele Pecoraro, executive director of Plymouth 400 Inc., a nonprofit group organizing yearlong events. “We’re not going to solve every problem and make everyone feel better. We just need to move the needle.”

Organizers are understandably cautious this time around. When the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim landing was observed in 1970, state officials disinvited a leader of the Wampanoag Nation — the Native American tribe that helped the haggard newcomers survive their first bitter winter — after learning his speech would bemoan the disease, racism and oppression that followed the Pilgrims.

That triggered angry demonstrations from tribal members who staged a National Day of Mourning, a somber remembrance that indigenous New Englanders have observed on every Thanksgiving Day since.

This time, there’s pressure to get it right, said Jim Peters, a Wampanoag who directs the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs.

“We’ll be able to tell some stories of what happened to us — to delve back into our history and talk about it,” Peters said. “Hopefully it will give us a chance to re-educate people and have a national discussion about how we should be treating each other.”

The commemoration known as Plymouth 400 will feature events throughout 2020, including a maritime salute in Plymouth Harbor in June, an embarkation festival in September, and a week of ceremonies around Thanksgiving.

The Mayflower II , a replica of the ship that carried the settlers from Europe to the New World four centuries ago, will sail to Boston in the spring. That autumn, it will head to Provincetown, at the outermost tip of Cape Cod, where the Pilgrims initially landed before continuing on to Plymouth.

Events also are planned in Britain and in the Netherlands, where the Pilgrims spent 11 years in exile before making their perilous sea crossing.

But the emphasis is on highlighting the often-ignored history of the Wampanoag and poking holes in the false narrative that Pilgrims and Indians coexisted in peace and harmony.

An interactive exhibit now making the rounds describes how the Wampanoag were cheated and enslaved, and in August 2020 tribal members will guide visitors on a walk through Plymouth to point out and consecrate spots where their ancestors once trod.

There are also plans to invite relatives of the late Wampanoag elder Wamsutta “Frank” James to publicly read that speech he wasn’t allowed to deliver in 1970 — an address that includes this passage: “We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end.”

“The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod for four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors and stolen their corn and beans,” the speech reads.

Dusty Rhodes, who chairs a separate state commission working to ensure the commemoration has a global profile, said she hopes it all helps make amends for centuries of “mishandled and misrepresented” history.

“The Pilgrims were the first immigrants,” said Plymouth 400’s Pecoraro. “We’re in a place in this country where we need solidarity. We need to come together. We need to be talking about immigration and indigenous people.”

Plymouth, nicknamed “America’s Hometown,” is sure to draw a crush of 2020 presidential candidates who will use its monuments as campaign backdrops. With President Donald Trump, Queen Elizabeth II and other heads of state on the invitation list, state and federal authorities already are busy mapping out security plans.

Wampanoag tribal leader and activist Linda Coombs, who’s helped plan the commemoration, is skeptical that anything meaningful will change for her people.

“It’s a world stage, so we’ll have more visibility than we’ve had in the past,” she said. “We’ll see if it’s enough. It’ll be a measuring stick for all that has to come afterward.”

“We’re not going to solve every problem and make everyone feel better. We just need to move the needle.” Michele Pecoraro, executive director of Plymouth 400 Inc.

Gas prices cooperate with Thanksgiving Day travelers

The plummeting price of gasoline means it won’t cost any more to reach the feast than it did last year: The $2.49-a-gallon price of regular unleaded gasoline in La Crosse is down 42 cents from its peak of $2.91 at the end of September and early October, and about the same as it was a year ago.

And favorable weather nationwide helped get the Thanksgiving travel rush off to a smooth start. Just a few dozen flights were canceled Tuesday around the U.S — fewer cancellations than on many regular travel days.

The AAA auto club predicted that 54.3 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home between Wednesday and Sunday, the highest number since 2005 and about a 5 percent increase from last year. AAA says 48 million will drive and 4.7 million will fly.

Looking at a longer, 12-day period, the airline industry trade group Airlines for America predicted that a record 30.6 million people will fly on U.S. carriers, up from 29 million last year. That’s more than 2.5 million per day.

Although most Wisconsin and Minnesota highway construction has wrapped up for the year, deer hunters and other motorists traveling during the Thanksgiving holiday period are still encountering a few work zones and should prepare for the possibility of heavy traffic along popular travel corridors.

Officials with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation expected peak travel periods to occur between noon and 8 p.m. Wednesday and again on Sunday, when hunters and holiday travelers head home.

Motorists also should be aware of increased deer activity this time of year, especially during early morning and early evening hours.

Motorists can get updated information on travel conditions, work zones and incidents by dialing 511 or visiting Statewide travel information also is available via Twitter, @511WI.

Help us pick the 2018 Tribune person of the year

The Tribune needs your help in selecting its 17th Person of the Year.

Readers are encouraged to nominate someone they think had a significant and positive effect on the community in 2018. The winner — along with a list of finalists — will be profiled in the Jan. 1 Tribune.

Here’s the list of past winners:

2002: Sister Leclare Beres, former director of St. Clare Health Mission, for her passion in providing health care to those who otherwise couldn’t afford it. Beres died in 2014.

2003: Bill Medland, former Viterbo University president, who led his school to record enrollment and fostered community outreach. Medland died in 2013.

2004: John Medinger, who ended an eight-year stint as mayor of La Crosse.

2005: Scott Mihalovic, who as principal at Logan High School provided steady leadership during a challenging period at the North Side school.

2006: Don Weber, chairman and CEO of Logistics Health Inc., whose fast-growing company opened its corporate headquarters in downtown La Crosse.

2007: Dempsey Miller, the former African-American family and student liaison for the La Crosse School District, who earned a reputation as a tireless supporter of young people.

2008: Jon Brenner, a YMCA swim coach who was diagnosed in spring 2008 with a late-stage cancerous brain tumor, and devoted the time he had left to his swimmers and his family. He died in January 2010.

2009: Fran Swift, a parent educator at The Parenting Place, who connects with area families through services such as play groups, fun nights, family coaching and classes.

2010: Dennis Loeffler, former director of the La Crosse Community Dental Clinic, who has provided dental care for thousands of the poor and underserved in the region.

2011: Marc Schultz, a longtime environmentalist who lives on Brice Prairie who has been a driving force in protecting the region’s natural resources.

2012: La Crosse District Attorney Tim Gruenke, who secured a guilty verdict in a high-profile double-homicide while being recognized by people throughout the county for his compassion for crime victims.

2013: Mike Desmond, former executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse, who has taken a leading role in tackling community issues.

2014: Dave and Barb Erickson, a La Crosse couple who helped create the city’s first new park in 30 years in memory of their late son, Chad.

2015: Tara Johnson, chairwoman of the La Crosse County Board, for bringing various parties together to turn a downtown parking lot into a $60 million development.

2016: Lee Rasch, for his achievements as president of Western Technical College for 17 years, his devotion to economic development and his passion for serving the La Crosse region.

2017: Dave and Barb Skogen, local philanthropists and longtime grocers who have spent decades giving back to the La Crosse area and its people.