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Wisconsin Farmers worried about losing workers due to COVID-19

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School closures could have an impact on Wisconsin's dairy industry as more than 8% of milk sales go to school systems.

La Crosse, Wis. (WXOW) - Wisconsin farmers are bracing as the Novel Coronavirus continues to spread across the state, and staff shortage is a top concern.

Doctors, police and now add farmers to the list of Wisconsinites still at work, putting their lives on the line during this global pandemic.

"People are really nervous, and concerned and can't sleep over this," said Frank Friar, Economic Development Specialist, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP).

As the number of COVI-19 cases climbs in the state, ag experts wonder when it will start to impact farmers.

"Thus far we have not had any calls particularly regarding any loss of labor force or any farmers being affected by COVID-19 themselves," Mike Lochner, Senior Ag Program Specialist, DATCP.

Still, the prospect of losing farm staff to the virus is concerning, especially for many dairy farmers.

"They still have to milk their cows 24/7, 365, so having a healthy workforce that they can rely on is extremely important, especially in times where labor on a dairy farm is extremely hard to find," John Seehafer, president, Seehafer Refrigeration Inc.

John Seehafer services vital milking equipment on dairy farms in the western part of the state, and while labor shortage is a concern, he said so is the state of the economy.

"It really depends on supply and demand at the end of the day. It really depends on how the recession hits, if it hits."

If a recession does hit the impact could be devastating, as state ag experts say the industry is already in flux.

"Farm prices are really volatile, and everything is kind of weighed down because of the virus issue," said Friar.

Just like almost all other industries impacted by the virus…There are a lot of uncertainties.

"We don't know where 30 days from now, 60 days from now what circumstances might be," said Lochner.

John Seehafer also added that the farming community is already very isolated, and that is what he suspects will protect them from feeling the brunt of the COVID-19 outbreak.

School closures could also have an impact on Wisconsin's dairy industry as more than 8% of milk sales go to school systems.

For farmers looking for resources and guidance visit datcp.wi.gov.


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Candace Price

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