For today’s show, Monday host Patty Peltekos speaks with Jo Handelsman about her new book, A World Without Soil: The Past, Present, and Precarious Future of the Earth Beneath Our Feet.
The Wisconsin Book Festival and the Wisconsin Science Festival are co-presenting a book event with Jo Handelsman this Thursday, October 21 at 6 p.m. in the Discovery Building at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. More information available at the Wisconsin Book Festival website.
Jo Handelsman is the director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, a Vilas Research Professor, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor. She previously served as a science advisor to President Barack Obama as the Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from 2014 to 2017. She is the author of A World Without Soil: The Past, Present, and Precarious Future of the Earth Beneath Our Feet (Yale University Press, 2021).
Noted: This year in Wisconsin, a fall armyworm population is present unlike anything most entomologists have ever seen. The pests are doing damage to alfalfa, winter wheat and other cover crops around the state. Bryan Jensen, UW-Extension Pest Management Specialist, shares that this warmer fall weather has helped to create a perfect storm for fall armyworms to thrive. Fall armyworms are different from the normal armyworms seen during late spring. The good news, according to Jensen, is they will most definitely not over-winter here in Wisconsin: they are a warm weather species, and will not survive the winter
Video: Dairy is a top industry in the Badger State, where more than a million cows produce some of the nation’s best cheese, milk and ice cream products.
Quoted: Steve Deller, professor of agricultural and applied economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said he thinks the new technology makes the plant a worthwhile investment for state tax credits and will hopefully help the state’s dairy industry move into the future.
“This is a pretty good shot in the arm for the Wisconsin dairy industry,” Deller said. “Any time we see new investment like this is a positive sign because a lot of the growth in the dairy industry has really not been occurring in Wisconsin.”
Quoted: Amaya Atucha, fruit crop specialist for UW-Madison, said she and other researchers are grateful to the cranberry growers that let them host projects on their marshes. She said worrying about the crops was a common issue that held back progress.
“When we want to study things related to an invasive insect or a disease in which you really have to let that disease take over your marsh or your production bed, you’re not going to do that in a grower’s commercial marsh, because the grower makes their living out of the fruit,” Atucha said.
If you are looking for a new peaceful and quiet place to walk and explore nature, consider visiting the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, a 1,200 acre site located on the near-west side of Madison, bordering the southern shore of Lake Wingra.
Much of southern and western Wisconsin has continued to experience abnormally dry conditions this year, with far southeastern Wisconsin seeing severe drought earlier this summer.
But agronomist Chris Kucharik from the University of Wisconsin-Madison said lower precipitation hasn’t had as much of an impact on the state’s crops as he was anticipating.
“I’m a bit surprised at how well the crops have been doing,” Kucharik said. “Honestly, once the crop is in the ground, (farmers) are kind of at the mercy of what happens during the growing season with the weather.”
Quoted: Even though the situation in the industry remains tough, Mark Stephenson, head of dairy policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said “2020 was not as bad a year for dairy farmers.”
Milk prices had been low since 2015 — “for a longer period of time than we’ve seen in quite a while,” according to Stephenson. Farmers did their best to cut costs, and waited for demand to increase and boost prices with it.
Written by , Assistant Professor of Planning and Landscape Architecture, and , Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Planning and Landscape Architecture, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Industry experts Mark Stephenson and Bob Cropp say they see optimism in price and supply for the coming months, according to the latest episode of the Dairy Markets and Policy podcast.
Cropp, professor emeritus of UW-Madison’s Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, said cold storage reports bring both bad and good news to dairy farmers: American cheese stocks are slowly decreasing at 2% this month, but butter stocks have gone up 14% in the same timeframe. Stephenson, director of the Center for Dairy Profitability, said cheese stocks will continue to see rising price support.
Quoted: “I have The Nature and Properties of Soils in front of me — the standard textbook,” said Gregg Sanford, a soil researcher at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “The theory of soil organic carbon accumulation that’s in that textbook has been proven mostly false … and we’re still teaching it.”
Noted: Green county has seen one of the state’s fastest growths in Latino population, increasing by an estimated 228% from 2000 to 2019, according to the Applied Population Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Monroe is the largest city in Green county and has seen a steady increase of Latino immigrants over 20 years. With a population of only about 10,800, new people stand out, which has made the adjustment, like the farm work, incredibly difficult for some dairy workers.
Quoted: “These early plants are relatively easy and that’s a good place to start,” said Greg Nemet, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who specializes in the development of climate-friendly energy technology. “As that gets shown and proven, you get some transportation networks, then it gets easier to do the harder stuff later.”
Quoted: Mark Stephenson, the director of dairy policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the industry definitely has a lot of challenges but is nowhere near extinction.
“We’ve produced record amounts of milk in the last year or two. It’s being consumed. Most of it domestically, but increasingly with exports,” said Stephenson.
Quoted: Earth’s vegetation is changing as fast as it did during the Ice Age, according to University of Wisconsin geography and climate professor Jack Williams. Organizations like the Prairie Enthusiasts conserving and restoring land makes a big difference.
“One of the things we’ve definitely learned from the past is that when climates change, species move and one way we can help those species is helping this movement across these modern, fragmented, very much transformed landscapes,” Williams said.
Quoted: “Management of forage fish populations should be based on data that are specific to that forage fish, and to their predators,” University of Wisconsin-Madison Associate Professor Olaf Jensen, a co-author of the study, said. “When there aren’t sufficient data to conduct a population-specific analysis, it’s reasonable to manage forage fish populations for maximum sustainable yield, as we would other fish populations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.”
Quoted: “The classic thing is that attackers go in and lurk, sometimes for very long periods of time, and maybe exfiltrate data,” said Molly Jahn, a plant geneticist at University of Wisconsin-Madison who was undersecretary of research, education and economics at USDA in 2009 and 2010 and has done extensive research on cybersecurity. Jahn is currently on loan to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) but spoke to Agri-Pulse in her personal capacity as an expert.
This summer, UW-Madison researchers further looked at the links between certain types of crops, the growth in those types of crops and the correlation to a decline in native bees across the state and the midwest as a whole.
“Rarer [bees] that have become increasingly rare, they might not be able to thrive because we’ve eliminated those flowers that they need from the landscape,” said Jeremy Hemberger, a research entomologist at UW-Madison “by converting prairies and wetlands to agriculture and developments.”
The decline of native bees is a decades-long problem that keeps the list of endangered bees growing.
“Native bees are silently playing these really important roles, so just people becoming more aware that there’s all these other groups out there that through our actions we could be supporting, I think is a really valuable thing,” UW-Madison professor Claudio Gratton said.
Quoted: Jeff Sindelar is a meat specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Division of Extension. He said small and mid-size processors saw demand for their services and products expand rapidly in 2020, after coronavirus outbreaks forced large processing plants to reduce capacity or shut down.
“They were really stressed because (farmers) were needing places to go with their animals, (consumers) were interested in buying more protein, and there was also this small hoarding phenomenon that was going on for a short period of time,” Sindelar said.
Earth’s vegetation is changing as quickly now as it changed at the end of the ice age 10 to 15 thousand years ago according to research in part out of the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
Quoted: It’s the worst drought in nearly a decade according to Jerry Clark, Agriculture Agent for Division of Extension, UW-Madison, Chippewa County.
“I think the rain we received over the last week has alleviated some of the drought stress and the crop are small enough yet especially for corn and soybeans that if this drought occurs in another month where we get high temperatures and start to run out of moisture, that is when we will definitely start to see the hit on the yield side locally,” Clark said.
Quoted: Christelle Guédot is an associate professor of entomology at UW-Madison. She says establishing more habitat for pollinators could help them out.
“So having more habitats for them, and more connectivity between those habitats, and not have, like, islands of habitat for pollinators, would really help in bringing those populations – not necessarily back to where they were, but improving in their abundance and diversity,” says Guédot.
Quoted: This suggests that butterflies as far north as Scandinavia are affected by habitat in countries like Chad and Nigeria. “It’s brilliant, really,” said Karen Oberhauser, a monarch expert and professor of entomology at the University of Wisconsin Madison, who was not involved in the study. “Until you know this, you’d never think that, ‘Wow, what’s going on so far away could have an impact.”
Deb Fitzgerald sits down with Steve Vavrus, Sr. Scientist at the Nelson Institute at UW-Madison, to talk about climate change and what’s in store for Wisconsin in general and Door County’s specifically. They also discussed what’s causing climate change, and some ways people can change their behaviors to reduce their carbon footprints.
Quoted: The state’s field crops are in fairly good condition, but are behind schedule considering the early planting accomplished by farmers this spring, said Shawn Conley, a soybean and small grains specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Division of Extension.
“In southern Wisconsin and even northern Wisconsin, it was a record planting time frame this spring,” Conley said. “I had a lot of farmers in southern Wisconsin have all of their crops in by May 1. I talked to a farmer of 40 years and that’s never happened.”
Quoted: “It compounds on itself,” said Jonathan Martin, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Wisconsin Madison. “When you’re dry, you get warm. When you’re excessively warm, you tend to build and strengthen the anticyclone, which encourages continuation of clear skies, which in turn encourages a lack of precipitation, which makes it drier, which makes the incoming solar radiation more able to heat the ground.”
Quoted: “Mind you, it’s a difficult thing to do, and to do well,” said Mark Stephenson, director of dairy policy analysis at UW-Madison.
Stephenson said farmers often make about $20 per hundredweight (cwt) for milk. By selling the cheese instead of the milk, they can get somewhere closer to $100 cwt for their milk.
“Sure, there are additional costs along the way, but potentially the income stream is bigger,” Stephenson said. “But there are a lot of ways it can go wrong.”
Quoted: Amaya Atucha is a fruit crop specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Division of Extension. She said the hot and dry conditions over the last few weeks have put stress on everything from strawberry plants to apple orchards.
“Plants in general use water mostly to be able to control temperature. So the warmer it gets, the more water they need to be able to cool down,” Atucha explained.
Cole Lubinski manages the UW-Extension’s Langlade Research Station, which supports the state’s potato industry. He said his area has gotten enough moisture so far this year, but farms in the Central Sands have had irrigation systems running around the clock.
“Vegetable crops, they’re considered a high-moisture crop, so it’s very crucial to keep proper soil moisture levels,” Lubinski said. “When you have weeks like last week where there was a lot of heat and you get put on electrical (peak) control, where you can’t run your system if it’s run by electric, then you’re going hours without water for your crop.”
UW-Madison agronomy and environmental studies professor Chris Kucharik details how limited rain and hot weather are contributing to drought conditions across southern Wisconsin.
Quoted: Joe Lauer, an agronomist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, acknowledged that farmers are anxious about the dry weather, but said that he’s not concerned … yet.
“One of the characteristics of a record-breaking year (for corn) is a mini-drought during the months of May and June,” he said. Lauer explained that a dry spring allows farmers to plant without fighting wet fields.
If you are worried about your garden or lawn, horticulture educator Vijai Pandian from the UW-Madison Extension has some tips to mitigate drought stress on landscape and garden plants.
Southern Wisconsin is pushing through an unseasonably dry summer. While the arid, hot days may be uncomfortable for those of us in Madison, it could spell financial trouble for the region’s farmers.
For more, our producer Jonah Chester spoke with Christopher Kucharick, professor of Agronomy at UW-Madison.
Quoted: Dry conditions have been holding pretty steady for the past month or so, said Christopher Kucharik, a climate researcher and professor of agronomy and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The longer they continue, though, the more intense drought becomes, with southeast Wisconsin moving from a moderate to severe level as June started and hot weather descended.
For the first time, cotton seeds will germinate and grow in space over the next few days, under the supervision down here of UW-Madison botany professor Simon Gilroy.
Gilroy says he wants to clarify this is not to supply fabric for those in orbit. “Yeah, our classic joke when talking about the experiment is the astronauts are going to make their own suits. It’s not what’s its for,” Gilroy tells WUWM.
A professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is taking his experiments to new heights at the International Space Station (ISS).
Dr. Simon Gilroy is a botany professor at the university. An experiment he and colleagues have been working on for the past three years is now making its way to the ISS after being launched Thursday.
Perhaps you are a person who works full time at another job but dreams of owning a small farm someday. Or maybe you already operate a farm but want to add another enterprise or start a side business. Whatever your aspirations may be, some of the first steps in making this goal a reality is to create a plan and secure funding.
That was the topic discussed in a University of Wisconsin Division of Extension webinar, titled “Your farm startup: where to begin and who can help?” One of the speakers was Andy Larson, the Farm Outreach Specialist for the Food Finance Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. With personal experience as a banker, extension educator, and farmer, one of his first pieces of advice was to “get some dirt under your fingernails.”
“Try it first,” Larson said. “Only real-life, on the ground experience can tell you whether your passion stands up to the daily grind.”
Quoted: “The denominator part, or the biggest piece of that, was really that imports declined,” said Mark Stephenson Director of Dairy Policy Analysis at UW Madison.
While it’s too soon to tell now, experts believe that increase could widen because of the pandemic.
“We had restaurants and other institutional portions of sales just decline precipitously during much of 2020,” Stephenson said.
Quoted: “Cows in cities were milked every day, and people would bring milk in carts back to their neighbourhoods to sell it,” says John Lucey, food science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“As cities got bigger, milk got further away and took longer to get to the consumer, which meant pathogens could multiply.”
Quoted: “If it’s going to be dry at any point during the growing season, this is a good time of year for it to be dry,” said Mike Ballweg, Sheboygan County crops and soils agriculture agent at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension.
Noted: The DNR worked with the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, the United States Geological Survey and the University of Wisconsin System to complete the research. The agencies looked at several different potential impacts, including recreation, fish, aquatic plants and water chemistry.
Noted: Jumping worms were first identified in Wisconsin in 2013 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum. Just eight years later, the worms have been reported just about everywhere in the state and are highlighted as an invasive species by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
“They are, if not in every county, close to it,” said Brad Herrick, an ecologist at the UW Arboretum.
Quoted: The lack of data on queer BIPOC farmers is also prevalent in academia, said Jaclyn Wypler, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies queer and transgender sustainable farmers in conservative rural communities. Wypler was recently hired as the Northeast project manager of the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network at the National Young Farmers Coalition.
“There is discrimination for BIPOC folks and queer folks within academia, including within the environmental and rural and agricultural departments,” Wypler said. As a result, research studies that highlight their experiences are difficult to adequately fund.
Quoted: Sarah Botham teaches agriculture and life sciences marketing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She said the Cheeselandia campaign is a successful example of the way that agriculture is trying to “market smarter” and with a new customer in mind.
“They are reaching, first of all, people who are really interested in Wisconsin cheese and secondly people who are of a younger demographic,” Botham said. “That generation is interested in not just eating but in understanding where their food comes from, in experiencing the food and sharing it with friends.”
Steve Deller, ag economist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said he agrees that many traditional lenders like banks and credit unions have remained conservative about investing in new projects since the Great Recession.
But Mark Stephenson, dairy policy analyst at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said you would never know it just by looking at Wisconsin’s total milk production for the year.
A new memorial scholarship at University of Wisconsin-Madison is honoring former dairy science professor Dave Wieckert, who died in May 2020 at age 88.
Growing cow numbers and increased milk production have dairy experts walking on a knives edge when predicting the trajectory of milk prices for the coming year.
Mark Stephenson, director of Dairy Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and director of the Center for Dairy Profitability and Bob Cropp, emeritus professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, delved into the factors impacting milk prices for 2021 during the February “Dairy Situation and Outlook” podcast this week.
The conversation came from a panel at the Growing Stronger virtual farming conference, hosted by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), University of Wisconsin-Madison programs and other farming organizations.
Amy Wallner is one of the farmers who enjoy digging up data for the University of Wisconsin’s Seed to Kitchen Collaborative. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in horticulture and soil science, she learned through the Department of Horticulture website about the collaboration, which aims to come up with delicious vegetable varieties that grow well in the Upper Midwest
Quoted: Melissa Kono is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who works in community development and is raising a family on a farm. “Work-life balance,” she said, is not a farming staple.
Paul Mitchell, director of the Renk Agribusiness Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said farmers, like many people, faced a lot of stress in 2020. He said the pandemic brought both emotional stress, as COVID-19 spread in rural areas, and stress for their profession, due to disruptions to supply chains and consumer eating habits.
Joy Kirkpatrick is an outreach specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Dairy Profitability who meets with farmers to help them navigate farm succession planning.
Kirkpatrick said she thinks the opportunity for anonymity online could make some farmers feel more comfortable sharing tough realities.
Professor emeritus of dairy science and former dean of the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Neal Jorgensen, passed away at 85 on Dec. 22.
Quoted: Paul Mitchell, director of the Renk Agribusiness Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the forecast is slightly higher than last quarter’s estimate, partly because of a price rally for corn and soybeans seen around harvest time.
“Cash revenues, from soybeans especially, are up compared to where they were in September. It’s rare to have prices go up at harvest when everyone is bringing crops in,” Mitchell said
Quoted: Some native plants are tied to the survival of a specific species. Like milkweed and monarch butterflies. Experts at UW-Madison say people planting milkweed in midwest have helped monarch populations survive.
“Basically right now we have thousands of people that are working to preserve monarch habitat, and i really think that without these efforts monarchs would be a lot worse off,” said Karen Oberhauser, director of the UW-Madison Arboretum.
Quoted: “It’s really important that we don’t just anthropomorphize cows based on our human experience, but we do know that they can experience negative emotions like pain and fear that we want to minimize,” said Jennifer Van Os, an animal welfare scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “On the flip side, they can have positive experiences like pleasure, reward and contentment that we want to try to promote.”
Quoted: “Pandemic cooking is a real thing,” said Mark Stephenson, head of dairy policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Restaurants have used a lot of butter, but we’re seeing greater sales even going through retail now than we did the sum of retail and restaurants before that.”
Noted: Dairy farming is 365 days a year, and James Baerwolf grew up knowing exactly what that meant. His parents made him look at other careers, but as soon as he was done with college at UW-Madison he returned right to the farm.