George Muth and Charlie Jones are in that slice of Wisconsin agriculture known for multigeneration family farms. And increasingly, they are facing a less certain future, as the cost of producing milk and meat has risen dramatically, often at odds with the prices farmers receive for their products in global commodities markets.
Muth is a fifth-generation dairy farmer in Cheeseville, northeast of West Bend. He and his son Peter have about 200 cows — a big enough farm to require increasingly expensive new equipment and land, but not always big enough to afford it.
"That is kind of an issue for us," Muth said.
Jones, who began farming in Washington County three years ago with his mother, Michelle (Kraemer) Jones, milks about 80 cows. In the long run, Jones said, he will probably aim for roughly 300 cows so the farm generates enough income to keep up with new technologies and rising costs.
"It's getting to the point where you have to milk that many cows to stay in business," Jones said. Changes in Wisconsin's farming landscape were clearly shown in the recent agricultural census that revealed the number of farms 50 to 179 acres in size fell 14% from 2007 to 2012, and the number of farms 10 to 49 acres fell more than 10% over that five-year period. Wisconsin had about 69,800 farms in 2012, roughly 8,700 less than in 2007, the year covered by the previous census.
And while farm acreage remained fairly stable nationwide, Wisconsin's decreased 4% to less than 14.6 million acres. Only Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alaska had comparable losses. That raises many concerns, because the lack of affordable land is the biggest barrier to young farmers' getting started, and it's a big issue for small and medium-size farms seeking to expand, said Kara O'Connor, government relations director for Wisconsin Farmers Union, a Chippewa Falls-based farming organization.
Large farms have accounted for a higher percentage of farmland use and food production. At the other end of the spectrum there's been growth in the number of small farms with specialty products, such as organic fruits and vegetables, sold directly to the public.
"The people who are really being squeezed are in the middle," O'Connor said, referring to medium-size farms like the ones Muth and Jones run that don't always have the financial resources to cover rising costs of land, livestock feed and equipment.
"If you are one of those folks in the middle, and you're thinking about expanding, you could be competing for land with (non-farm) investors who have a big pile of cash that needs a home," O'Connor said.Family farms diminishing amid rising costs, consolidation (JSOnline)
The number of water main breaks in Milwaukee continues to climb.
On Tuesday afternoon, city officials said a total of 64 mains had broken since Saturday, most on the northwest side.
The problem showed up on Saturday when the city shut down one of its two water treatment plants. City officials did that after Milwaukee Water Works found a leak on an 84-inch water main located outside the Texas Avenue Pumping Station on the south side. That station pumps water to the Howard Avenue Water Treatment Plant.
The Howard plant was then shut down. That left the Linnwood Water Treatment Plant to provide water to the Milwaukee Water Works' service area. When water pressure from the plant was increased, water main breaks started to occur.
The problem is expected to be discussed on Wednesday before the Common Council's Public Works Committee. The meeting begins at 9 a.m., and the water main discussion is expected to begin at approximately 9:45 a.m.Number of water main breaks continues to rise (JSOnline) Especially sad in the land of Sewer Socialism. My how times have changed.