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Capital City Sunday: Brutal year for dairy, FEMA testing supplies & workforce challenges

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MADISON (WKOW) --- The dairy industry is facing another brutal year as the coronavirus is making it difficult for farmers to sell their products.

Whether its weather, trade wars, or uncertainty in the market, the agriculture industry has suffered a lot in the last few years, and now a new challenge -- finding companies to buy their goods.

President of the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance Cindy Leitner said in order for the industry to survive, they want the USDA and state lawmakers to work to find businesses that will buy dairy products, such as food banks.

“One in ten people are food insecure, people are out of work, people are poor and we need to get food to these people but it needs to be in a portion that they can take home,” said Leitner.

Milk is also a challenge as farmers just have too much of it. Just as this year looked to be a recovery period for milk prices, Leitner said 2020 could bring the lowest milk prices the state has seen in years.

“You can’t turn off a production line, we have those expenses already and we are going to have a problem. If you try to reduce that production between 10-25% you are going to see farm losses almost to an equal value or more,” she said.

FEMA Medical Supplies, Work in Congress

Wisconsin is receiving millions of supplies to fight the virus through the Federal Emergency Management Agency during this pandemic. Last week, over 230,000 N95 masks were sent to Wisconsin, but still, some Democrats don’t think FEMA and the Trump administration are doing enough to send the state the supplies it needs. 

FEMA’s Regional V Administrator James K. Joseph acknowledges there is a shortage of supplies and said they are continuing to work with medical manufacturers and distributors to ship needs across the state.

“We are doing a lot of work to expedite the arrival of those products using planes instead of ships and continuing to work in partnership with manufacturers to have an increase of critical supplies.”

Congressman Mark Pocan (D-Town of Vermont), who was highly critical of FEMA, said he believes things are looking up, but is concerned there’s still a lack of testing supplies.

Governor Tony Evers sent a letter to FEMA outlining how the state still needs thousands of testing kits, a major barrier keeping Wisconsin from reopening.

“We need to seriously ramp up our testing, at least triple in the state,” said Pocan. 

Wisconsin manufacturers Exact Sciences and Promega are working to produce some 60,000 tests a week, with plans to ramp up to 120,000. 

UNCERTAIN FUTURES FOR COLLEGE GRADS

First their classes were shifted to online and then graduation ceremonies canceled. Now, college students and soon-to-be graduates are worried their futures will suffer because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Finding jobs during these uncertain times hasn’t been easy. Some students who were set to have their first job out of college were told by their employers they no longer can fill those positions, leaving them jobless.

Rochelle Wanner is the lead advisor for employer relations at Madison Area Technical College and said most of the jobs hiring right now are essential businesses.

She also encourages students to use this downtime to sharpen their skills when the outbreak starts to let up.

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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