WED AM News: Farming sustainability project results in lower pollution levels; Crop report highlights ‘much-needed’ rains

— A new agriculture sustainability project being piloted in southwestern Wisconsin has resulted in lower levels of water pollution.

That’s according to a report from a nonprofit group called Farmers for Sustainable Food, made up of the state Dairy Business Association, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative and The Nature Conservancy. The project aims to assess the environmental and fiscal viability of various conservation practices. 

“It’s rewarding to see, in concrete terms, that we are making a positive difference,” said Jim Winn, a dairy farmer participating in the project and president of the Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance. 

The report documents results of the first year of the pilot program, undertaken in 2019 by 12 farmers located primarily in Lafayette County. On average, each of the participating farms adopted five conservation practices per field that have been shown to improve farming sustainability. These included nutrient management plans, the use of cover crops and following “university-recommended” fertilizer rates. 

Conservation efforts on these farms are reducing the amount of sediment reaching local streams and rivers by 28 percent, the report shows. Farmers for Sustainable Food estimates that adding cover crops to half of the fields in the project area could result in additional pollution reductions of 40 percent in sediment, 28 percent in nitrogen and 23 percent in phosphorus. 

The first year of the project was meant to establish baseline metrics for further conservation efforts, with a goal of making the framework applicable to farms in other areas. Going forward, the project aims to determine the return on investment for several of the farmers implementing these conservation efforts. 

“We can be proud of what we have accomplished, but it doesn’t stop here,” Winn said. “This is about continuous improvement — more innovation, more collaboration, more data — to make sure we are protecting our natural resources and remaining productive.”

See the full report: 

— The latest federal crop progress report highlights “much-needed rains” across most of the state this past weekend. 

Only the far north and far south regions of the state saw little rainfall, the report shows. Both topsoil and subsoil moisture levels benefited from the rain, which comes after several weeks of largely dry conditions. 

Crops including corn, soybeans and oats are all progressing ahead of the five-year average, the release shows. 

The report, covering the week ending Aug. 8, comes from the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. 

See the report: 

— Wisconsin is seeing negative trends in a number of COVID-19 measures, according to Medical College of Wisconsin President and CEO Dr. John Raymond. 

During a webinar hosted by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, he noted the state’s positivity rate of tests for COVID-19 has reached 7.4 percent for the seven-day average. 

“Ideally, we’d like to see this declining and be significantly below 5 percent,” he explained. 

At the same time, the reproductive rate for the virus “is trending upward in an unfavorable direction.” As these measures worsen largely due to the spread of the more contagious delta variant, Wisconsin is losing ground compared to other U.S. states. 

Over the past 14 days, he noted the state saw a 259 percent increase in new cases, which is the second-highest in the country behind New Hampshire. At the same time, hospitalizations in Wisconsin have increased by 149 percent over the past two weeks — the fourth-highest growth rate in the country behind Vermont, South Carolina and Mississippi, he said. 

“These numbers are the highest we’ve seen in six months,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Wisconsin has also fallen in the rankings of states for completed vaccinations, going from the top 10 in recent months to the current ranking of 21st. As of yesterday, 52.8 percent of the state’s population had received at least one vaccine dose and 49.8 percent were fully vaccinated. 

Despite these trends, Raymond pointed out that Wisconsin hasn’t seen a “significant uptick” in the number of deaths associated with COVID-19 infections. 

“We do expect if we track along the experience of other states and other countries that the deaths will start to rise,” he said. “But we won’t see the significant numbers of deaths we were experiencing last November.” 

The Department of Health Services dashboard shows 7,459 people have died from COVID-19 in Wisconsin. The seven-day average for new confirmed COVID-19 deaths has stayed below 10 deaths per day since late February. 

See more on vaccinations in the state: 

— With the delta variant driving a surge in COVID-19 cases in the state, the number of children diagnosed with the virus has also increased in recent weeks. 

Between the weeks of June 20 and Aug. 1, the latest date for which youth rates are available, the number of weekly new cases among children ages 3 and under increased from 13 to 201. 

Over the same period, the number of new weekly cases for children ages 4 to 8 increased from 10 to 290. And the number of new weekly cases for children ages 9 to 13 increased from 20 to 304. 

Meanwhile, the number of new weekly cases for youth ages 14 to 17 rose from 16 to 269. 

Although people ages 19 and younger make up 16.6 percent of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state, this age group represents just 2 percent of cases resulting in hospitalization in Wisconsin. 

Still, a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows a “continuing substantial increase” in the number of cases among children on the national level. 

See the American Academy of Pediatrics report here: 

See the latest case numbers at the Department of Health Services site:  

— A new report from the Department of Health Services shows the state’s ongoing opioid epidemic worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The report highlights an increase in “suspected opioid overdose incidents” based on data from emergency departments and ambulance activity. 

The ambulance data showed a “greater than expected” number of suspected overdoses between March 2020 and August 2020, before the number decreased to below-expected levels. And emergency department visits increased above expected levels between April 2020 and June 2020 before dropping below expected levels and remaining there. 

In a release, DHS notes that there doesn’t appear to be a connection between the number of COVID-19 cases in a given county and the number of opioid overdoses, “suggesting that the incidents were not connected to having or being exposed to the virus, but are based on a number of other factors.” 

DHS Director of Opioid Initiatives Paul Krupski attributes the increase in suspected overdoses to stress due to social isolation, economic instability, stronger opioids such as fentanyl circulating, a lack of access to treatment and recovery services, and other factors. 

In a release, DHS also notes that it will be getting about $10.4 million over the next five years from a recent multistate settlement with McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm that worked with opioid manufacturers. The funds will go toward opioid epidemic mitigation efforts. 

“The information in the report clearly shows that we have to be vigilant in our efforts to support people and connect them with help,” Krupski said in a statement. “The initiatives to be funded through the McKinsey & Company settlement will be instrumental in our continued fight against the opioid epidemic.”

See the opioids report here: 

— Northwestern Mutual is launching a new $100 million “impact investing fund” aimed at reducing economic inequality among African American communities in Milwaukee and around the country. 

The fund will focus on investments in three areas: physical and social infrastructure; access to capital for individuals and businesses; and healthy, sustainable neighborhoods and communities. 

“The Impact Investing Fund is intended to make measurable improvement in racial equity, while also generating a positive financial return for our policyowners,” said Ray Manista, executive vice president and chief legal and compliance officer at Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual.

See the release: 


# Madison chancellor: Foxconn most likely won’t honor $100M pledge

# Global warming is happening more rapidly. Wisconsin is already feeling it.

# Guthrie’s Gateway Capital closed first fund at $13.5M with investment from BMO Harris, Johnson Financial



– Tasting the Wisconsin State Fair, from Pink Squirrels to bacon-cinnamon curds


– UW-Madison not expecting to receive $100 million gift Foxconn pledged, chancellor says


– Want to go to Summerfest? You need to prove you’re vaccinated or have a negative COVID-19 test.


– Weekend rain brought relief to areas of Wisconsin


– Report: Opioid overdoses in Wisconsin rising during pandemic


– Northwestern Mutual launches $100M impact investing fund, invests in Milwaukee’s Gateway Capital


– Farm real estate values still rising in Wisconsin

– Frontdesk raises $7 million, lends unused office space to other Milwaukee startups


– COVID-19 and a tightening labor market made Wisconsin school bus driver shortages worse


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

Dept. of Health Services: New report shows COVID-19 pandemic impact on opioid overdoses; McKinsey & Company settlement funds aid response to opioid epidemic

AARP Wisconsin: Thematic outreach kits for Dane County’s long-term care facilities will be updated with AARP WI grant

AARP Wisconsin: Proposal to beautify downtown with artistic pieces wins grant