FRI AM News: Leaders in agriculture talk profitability for the industry; WisBusiness podcast features Dan Costello, Forward 4 Families

— For beef and corn producer Cal Dalton, late December and early January was an optimistic time on the farm. Crop and cattle prices were decent, and Dalton felt a renewed energy after an extended downturn from China embargoes. 

But then COVID-19 hit. 

“It pretty much destroyed our markets,” Dalton told a virtual luncheon yesterday. He noted a dollar drop in corn prices, a dollar fifty drop in soybean prices and a twenty dollar hundredweight drop for cattle. 

Despite the agricultural markets shattering, Dalton was quick to affirm that farmers remained optimistic and hoped to work themselves out of the economic dilemma brought on by the pandemic. Solutions: shift production and diversify the farm.

“Some producers here in Wisconsin planted more acres of hay this year and we did the same thing on our farm — we went to more soybeans and less corn. And we’re hoping that that was a good combination to diversify our operation and make it a little more profitable,” the Endeavor farmer and ethanol advocate said. 

He noted producers nationwide cut corn acres because of the costs to plant and its low profitability, which in turn affected ethanol production.

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— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: The Podcast” features Dan Costello, director and president of Forward 4 Families, a public/private partnership creating a framework to centralize food options and provide no-contact delivery to keep communities safe.

The 2020-founded, Madison-based organization stands on four pillars: meet a core need, which is to get food and supplies to people during the COVID-19 pandemic; slow the viral spread; provide doorstep delivery; and support the local economy by helping local businesses keep their doors open and employees working.

“We figured out it was a much larger issue, that it spends a lot more than just restaurant food and feeding people,” said Costello. “We unearthed that there is a whole food supply chain problem that spans the entire breadth of everybody who is in the complete ability to eat out every day to people who just can’t. There is one fundamental truth across all of these groups. They need to get food to their homes in a safe way.” 

Costello is also the founder and CEO of Acumium, which helps businesses scale and grow through digital enablements. The core of Acumium is to help solve problems and Costello saw an essential and needed solution in getting food safely to people during COVID-19.

And Forward 4 Families, Costello said, will be needed beyond the pandemic.

“Having a delivery system, methodology, community focused way of getting things to people’s doorsteps has been needed for quite some time,” he said. “We do need something to make it easier and more accessible for all the businesses out there that need to get things to folks at their homes.”

Listen to the podcast, sponsored by UW-Madison: 

— U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan says one of his main goals now is to protect and promote small businesses through the COVID-19 fiscal crisis.

But the Town of Vermont Dem warned he wasn’t sure when a new federal aid package will become law, “because of the reluctance of the Senate” and President Trump’s divisive leadership style.

He said he’s had two conversations with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on “making sure people don’t get left behind” in any following federal aid efforts. He compared negotiations between Pelosi, Trump, and GOP U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “The Adams Family” TV show characters, calling it “a very weird mix” where problems aren’t fully addressed due to conflicting priorities.

“Until about 10 days, two weeks ago, 90 percent of my time has shifted to dealing with COVID-19,” Pocan said in a Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce webinar. “Whatever we do that’s towards recovery, we’re keeping small business in mind.”

He also urged Wisconsinites to look into the state’s work-share program, which allows part-time work while still receiving unemployment benefits.

“I’m a bit evangelical about this program,” he said, claiming Wisconsinites now make up one out of every 10 work-share members nationally.

He touted the program as a way for people to stay afloat while lawmakers continue to debate additional relief packages.

Pocan added that while many of his congressional colleagues are millionaires and lawyers, he has been a “true small business owner” for the last 32 years.

He owns Budget Signs & Specialties, a printing shop in Dane County.

— During a media call with Gov. Tony Evers, a DHS spokeswoman cut off questions about the recent departures of two agency staffers.

Former state health officer Jeanne Ayers says she was asked to resign without explanation, while former Assistant Deputy Secretary Nicole Safar left the agency this spring and is now with the liberal group A Better Wisconsin Together.

When a reporter asked DHS Secretary Andrea Palm why the two left, he was cut off.

A different reporter then asked Palm if the public should have confidence in the agency considering the two departures during a pandemic.

Palm said the agency, in partnership with the public, was able to flatten the curve on COVID-19 infections to protect health care workers and ensure the health care system wouldn’t be overwhelmed.

“Generally speaking, the people of the state should feel really good about the work we’ve done together in this pandemic,” said Palm, who has faced calls from GOP state senators to resign or have her confirmation rejected.

— The Department of Health Services will distribute $40 million in aid to Wisconsin hospitals to cope with coronavirus expenses.

Gov. Tony Evers said DHS will make the payments from the federal CARES Act coronavirus relief package. He said the money is meant to make up for lost revenue and increased expenses from the pandemic.

“Our hospitals have been doing more with less throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, caring for vulnerable Wisconsinites and keeping our communities healthy and safe,” he said in a statement. “This support is critically needed as we continue to battle this virus and ensure high quality care for Wisconsinites.”

DHS Secretary Andrea Palm said the administration wanted to make sure the amount would provide meaningful relief to the healthcare sector. 

Wisconsin’s hospitals and health systems followed federal government directives to stop providing non-emergency services and procedures in order to build up capacity and resources for a predicted surge of COVID-19 patients. 

But doing so, according to Wisconsin Hospital Association President and CEO Eric Borgerding, resulted in billions of dollars in revenue losses for Wisconsin’s hospitals and health systems statewide.

“(The) announcement from Governor Evers is very welcome news as hospitals continue recovering from the financial impacts of COVID-19. We appreciate this assistance and his recognition of the ongoing challenges facing hospitals and health systems across the state,” he said.

Besides the money, hospitals will receive additional personal protective equipment, test kits and other medical supplies, according to the release.

Evers’ office said hospitals should start receiving payments by the second week of July.

See more:

— COVID-19 hospital patients statewide are on the decline, now numbering 306.

About 70 percent of those patients — 213 — are in southeastern Wisconsin, which is also seeing a decline.

According to data from the Wisconsin Hospital Association, the state’s COVID-19 ICU patients are at 101 and COVID-19 inpatients with pending tests number 188, both less than Wednesday and the week before. 

Of the state’s confirmed cases, 14 percent have been hospitalized and 3 percent have received intensive care, according to DHS.

The department also reports that 47 or fewer patients are in each of the six other public health regions of the state.

WHA data show that statewide, Wisconsin seems to have a stable and adequate supply of beds and ventilators. Hospitals have a total of 1,266 ventilators and 315 ventilated patients.

ICU beds immediately available in the state number 381 out of 1,485 total in Wisconsin; intermediate care beds — 170 out of 841; surgical beds — 1,208 out of 7,239; and isolation beds — beds in negative pressure rooms meant for isolating patients — 1,022 out of 1,966.

But according to data from DHS, southeastern Wisconsin has only 17 percent of its beds available.

— But hospitals continue to lack personal protective equipment for health care workers.

The WHA data show that 29 hospitals have a seven-day or less supply of face shields, 43 have a limited supply of goggles, 31 have limited N95 masks, 36 have a limited supply of gowns and 29 hospitals have limited paper medical masks.

Health care workers account for about 10 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases — 2,131. 

— The state’s COVID-19 death count is at 682, 11 new deaths since the previous count.

Milwaukee County had 10 of the new deaths, while Waupaca County had one. 

The number of recovered patients continues to rise, now at an estimated 70 percent, while 3 percent of patients have died. Twenty-seven percent are still in a 30-day waiting period of symptom onset or diagnosis.

Counties reporting deaths include: Milwaukee (346), Racine (51), Brown (38), Kenosha (36), Waukesha (34), Dane (31), Rock (21), Walworth (17), Ozaukee (13), Grant (12), Washington (10), Outagamie (8), Winnebago (8), Fond du Lac (6), Clark (4), Dodge (4), Jefferson (4), Richland (4) and Sheboygan (4).

Door, Marinette and Sauk counties report three deaths each. Buffalo, Calumet, Forest and Waupaca counties report two deaths each.

Adams, Bayfield, Burnett, Columbia, Iron, Jackson, Juneau, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Marathon, Marquette, Monroe, Polk and Wood counties report one death each.

Click here for more coronavirus resources and updates:

— Plus, 333 new COVID-19 cases brings the cumulative case count to 21,921. 

In addition to an increase in confirmed cases — the most in 5 days — the positive tests as a percentage of total tests also rose to 3.6 percent from 2.8 percent Wednesday.

“We remain vulnerable to at least small spikes, and we’re continuing to see that in certain workplaces and certain communities,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief health officer at the Bureau of Communicable Diseases. “That’s a risk that’s probably not going to go away until we have really flattened the curve to almost nothing.”

But Westergaard told reporters in a DHS briefing he’s optimistic the state can prevent larger spikes.

“I think we’re in a good place and glad that we didn’t see large cases, and the better we can have timely information on what’s happening locally we can respond and prevent it from being a larger epidemic,” he said. 

The state reported 9,275 total tests Thursday, far short of the state’s daily lab capacity of 16,153 tests.

To date, the state has administered just under 388,000 tests, with the Wisconsin National Guard responsible for administering almost 121,000 of those.

The National Guard has ongoing coronavirus testing sites statewide, supporting the state’s initiative to increase COVID-19 testing. A total of 25 specimen collection teams made up of nearly 600 citizen soldiers and airmen are involved in the mobile testing sites.

Community-based testing sites are located at the Legendary Waters Casino in Bayfield County, Alliant Energy Center in Dane County, Merril Festival Grounds in Lincoln County, United Migrant Opportunity Services and Custer Stadium in Milwaukee County, the Portage County Health and Human Services Building and at Bridges Elementary School in Sauk County.

The Guard is conducting site-based testing in Cumberland in Barron County, the Green Bay Correctional Institute in Brown County, a DHS facility in Chippewa, Dane and Juneau counties, Racine in Racine County and at the Oshkosh Correctional Institution in Winnebago County. 


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– Winter Wheat Forecast is Over Nine Million Bushels 

– COVID-19 forces changes to dairy promotion activities 


– Gender pay gap narrowing in Milwaukee, Waukesha counties 


– How the CDC recommends colleges, universities prepare for fall 

– UW-EC to require face masks, daily temperature checks in fall 

– UW–Madison partners with InStride to expand access to education 

– St. Norbert College creates George Floyd Memorial Scholarship to tackle ‘systemic inequities’ 

– Sole finalist for UW System top job has lackluster credentials and vision, critics say  


– PSC denies request to block Green County wind farm 

– Controlling invasive milfoil with lake-wide herbicide could do more harm than good to native plants 

– Environmental DNA shows promise in estimating sport fish populations

– Gypsy Moth Aerial Treatments Start Soon in 15 Counties 

– Johnson Offers New Amendment to Delist Gray Wolves 


– New PPP law may have made it more about protecting businesses than saving jobs 

– MMAC launches grant program for businesses damaged during recent looting 

– State’s Number Two In CFAP Funding Distribution So Far 


– Testing finds coronavirus cases largely absent from state veterans homes, so far 

– State To Provide Aid To Hospitals Hurt By Lost Revenue, Added Expenses During Pandemic 

– Five in Eau Claire County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19 


– New Madison firm targets $200M for first venture fund 

– WARF/UW–Madison among top 10 universities granted U.S. utility patents in 2019


– Mailing of absentee ballot applications to 2.7 million closer to finalization 

– Wisconsin Republican leaders slam Evers for recording COVID-19 meeting 

– Wisconsin creates grant programs for local election security efforts 


– Milwaukee County using CARES Act money to stop evictions 


– More restrictions being lifted for businesses in suburban Milwaukee County 

New countywide order allows larger indoor, outdoor gatherings 


– Duluth Trading Co. CEO: Stores still important 


– Healthy Turkey Hunt This Spring 


– Potawatomi Hotel & Casino sees success in first week of reopening, CEO Rodney Ferguson says 

– Marcus Theatres to reopen six cinemas June 19, including three in Milwaukee area 


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