MON AM News: Report details ag conservation program progress; DWD economist highlights lagging jobs in leisure and hospitality

— A new DATCP report highlights a 23 percent increase in the number of acres where conservation efforts are being practiced by farmers. 

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection on Friday released the 2020-2021 impact report for the agency’s Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grant Program. Through this program, DATCP provides funding to ag groups for efforts to reduce phosphorus runoff and soil erosion, among other pollution mitigation goals. 

DATCP Secretary Randy Romanski says the program is “critical in ensuring a strong future for Wisconsin’s agriculture industry.” 

According to the report, the number of total reported conservation practice acres increased from 798,221 in 2020 to 978,881 in 2021. And the program identified a 20 percent increase in cropland with cover crops, a 34 percent increase in acres managed with no-till practices and a 46 percent increase in nutrient management planning. 

A total of 807 farmers were participating in producer-led groups last year, DATCP says. Since the program began in 2015, the agency says it has awarded over $4.2 million to 41 different groups around the state. The report shows funding requests have consistently outstripped available dollars despite the program’s budget growing from $250,000 in 2016 to $750,000 last year. 

Mark Witecha, soil and watershed management section manager for DATCP, says the program has successfully promoted “local, farmer-driven solutions” to address water quality and soil health issues. Projects spotlighted in the report include soil testing, “low disturbance” practices, various cover crop management programs and more. 

“Farmers participants are in an excellent position to understand their local resource concerns, and to engage their peers on the economic and ecological benefits of conservation practices and systems,” Witecha said in the report. 

Over 2020 and 2021, participating farmers reduced soil-based greenhouse gas emissions by about 86,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, the report shows. That’s about equal to the emissions of 18,488 gas-powered passenger vehicles driven for one year, based on an Environmental Protection Agency calculation. 

See the agency’s release: 

See the full report: 

— The chief economist for the state Department of Workforce Development says employment in the leisure and hospitality sector is lagging due to fewer people working multiple jobs. 

In a recent media briefing, Dennis Winters noted Wisconsin’s leisure and hospitality jobs remain about 13,300 from the previous peak, or about 95 percent of that pre-pandemic number. 

“We think part of that is because they’re getting higher wages in one particular job and don’t need a second job,” he said. “That could be impacting hiring for those largely part-time jobs in that industry, as we’ve seen.” 

Meanwhile, Winters said construction employment is near the state’s all-time high, which reached around 130,000 workers in 2006. 

“Now we’re looking at about [129,900] so yeah, it’s up there in ranges we’ve seen in peaks,” he said. “And that industry is coming back fast.” 

He said most of those gains are in residential construction and the skilled trades, adding it will likely take a year or two for home supply to catch up with demand. But he said demand has already begun to slip “because of higher interest rates and higher prices — and that will recalibrate somewhere down the road.” 

Winters also said job growth in manufacturing remains strong, pointing to a “movement to onshore” production in various industries due to the pandemic-related supply chain disruptions. 

“What we’re seeing is pretty healthy there,” he said, adding “it all bodes well” for manufacturing in the state. 

Watch the briefing here: 

See DWD’s latest report on unemployment and jobs in the state: 

— The seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin has reached 1,689 cases per day after increasing for much of July. 

That’s according to the latest figures released Friday by the state Department of Health Services. While the average has been on the rise for the past several weeks, the increase is minor compared to previous spikes seen during surges in COVID-19 activity. 

The DHS site also shows little change in statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past two weeks or so. And the state’s percent positivity rate for coronavirus testing has remained fairly stable for over two months, fluctuating between about 12 percent and 14 percent. The latest rate was 14.2 percent. 

Meanwhile, the seven-day average for new COVID-19 deaths has also seen little change in recent weeks. After reaching a peak of 39 deaths per day in late January during the previous major spike, the average had fallen to just one death per day at the start of May. It hasn’t exceeded five deaths per day since then. 

And COVID-19 vaccination rates have seen little change in recent weeks despite vaccines being approved for children aged 6 months to 5 years last month. As of Friday, 64.6 percent of state residents had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, 61.5 percent had completed the vaccine series and 35.1 percent had received an additional or booster dose. 

See the latest case numbers here: 

Find more statewide data here: 

— Dane County health officials are recommending wearing a mask in public indoor spaces as the county has moved into the highest category for COVID-19 activity. 

Janel Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison & Dane County, said in a post that cases reported in the county have remained stable over the past two months while hospitalizations have slowly risen. 

Dane County is one of 16 Wisconsin counties currently in the CDC’s “high” community levels category. The rating includes new reported cases over the past week, new regional COVID-19 hospital admissions and the percentage of inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. 

When the Department of Health Services community levels map was previously updated earlier this month, most of the counties seeing higher levels of virus activity were in the northern half of the state. As of last week’s update, more activity is being seen in a cluster of counties in south central Wisconsin. 

“We’re seeing this trend of communities moving to medium and high levels nationwide, and it is possible we could bounce between medium and high levels for a few weeks,” Heinrich said. 

This move comes after Milwaukee health officials recently issued a mask advisory for the city following an increase in COVID-19 activity in Milwaukee County. 

See the post from PHMDC: 

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