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Morning State News Briefs: State maple syrup harvest largest in 21 years

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news Ellsworth, 54011
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

Wisconsin's maple syrup harvest for this spring is the biggest in at least 21 years.

The USDA said today that the Badger State made 265-thousand gallons of syrup this year. That's five times as much as a year ago, when an early spring cut the sap season short. Officials said this year's sugar content was up. Only 34 gallons of sap were needed to make a gallon of maple syrup. That's down from 44 gallons a year ago. Wisconsin is the nation's fourth-largest syrup-producer. Vermont is No. 1, followed by New York and Maine.

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The old saying is that the corn crop should be "knee high by the Fourth of July" - but some of the Wisconsin crop is not even in the ground yet. Federal officials said only 87-percent of the state's corn was planted as of Sunday night. That's six-percent more than a week ago, but 13 points behind the average for the past five years. A wet-and-cool spring continues to hurt Wisconsin growers. In north central Wisconsin, officials say only 61-percent of the corn is planted - compared to around 95-percent for three southern districts. Only 72-percent of the soybeans are planted statewide, down from the norm of 97-percent. Just over a-third of the year's first hay crop is in, down from the normal of 71-percent. Observers say farmers are in need of warmth and sunshine. Eau Claire is 100-degree days short of normal, while Green Bay is 22-degree days short. Relatively cool temperatures are in the forecast until Friday, when temperatures in the south could hit the mid-to-upper-80's. The chances for more rain increase as the week goes on, starting on Wednesday night. Dry and cool weather is projected until then.

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Summer officially begins this week - and yet, it was one-degree above freezing in Superior this morning. Most of Wisconsin was in the 40's-and-50's, but a couple spots in the north cooled down to the 30's after a boisterous cold front went through. Northwest Wisconsin had heavy thunderstorms early yesterday afternoon. A pole shed blew down near New Richmond, and hail fell in Saint Croix and Polk counties. Marathon and Lincoln counties in north-central Wisconsin also had hail and heavy rains, and parts of the region had winds up to 45-miles-an-hour. A stretch of eastern Wisconsin from Shawano to Waukesha counties had one of the state's worst hail storms so far this year. Several bands of hail fell throughout the afternoon. Tennis-ball-sized hail came down at Appleton. Clearing skies and cooler temperatures are in statewide forecast today, with highs in the 60's-and-70's. Warmer readings are expected on Thursday, along with our next real chance of rain.

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A new study of Wisconsin's economy shows that it's not keeping up with today's high-tech advances - most industries ignore a growing export market - and the state's workforce is not as well-educated as others. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation hired an Ohio firm to examine the Badger State's economic sectors over the last year. The review shows that all but one of the state's 37 largest industrial sectors are in manufacturing - many of which that use processes which date back for 100 years or more. The data is similar to previous reports. But the numbers have taken on a new urgency, amid reports that Wisconsin's job growth is the 44th lowest in the nation, and its wages have dropped twice as fast as the national average. Electrical equipment is the state's top manufacturing sector, replacing paper mills. Paper conversion is ranked second. It produces things like bags and envelopes. Lee Swindall of the WEDC says the state cannot do anything about market forces, which Michigan found out when its auto industry got hit hard. The report said Wisconsin only gets 15-percent of its economic output from innovative high-tech firms - almost four-percent less than the national average. Only 41-percent of manufacturers in the survey thought "global engagement" was important, almost nine-percent less than national firms. Swindell says the export attitude must change, and quickly. Also, 33-percent of Wisconsin adults have nothing more than a high school diploma - about five-percent above the national average. Swindall says the report has a few positives. Electrical equipment manufacturing grew by 31-percent in the state from 2008-through-2011, and cheese-making has grown 30-percent in that same period.

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Wisconsin higher education officials cried foul this morning, after the release of a report which showed that teacher training at many state schools is not up-to-snuff. The National Council on Teacher Quality used a four-star rating system to evaluate teacher prep programs at over 1,100 U.S. colleges and universities. UW-Stout had the best showing, with three stars. Twenty-one programs had two-and-a-half stars or less. UW-Milwaukee and Stevens Point received "consumer alerts" for an apparent lack of quality in their teacher training. UWM vice-president Tom Luljak took serious exception to the survey. He said Milwaukee's teacher prep programs meet or exceed standards put out by the state Department of Public Instruction. He said Milwaukee's rating quote, "doesn't provide context of programs as they exist today." Jeanne Williams of Ripon College, who heads the Wisconsin Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, said the Council had quote, "no standing" to be evaluating teacher programs. University officials around the state had previously criticized the criteria that the National Council on Teacher Quality used to come up with a four-star rating system. In fact, the Council had to file suit against the UW to get information on course details - and they reached a settlement which gave them the data under some conditions.

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Searchers in Kenosha spent most of last night looking for a man who is presumed drowned in Lake Michigan. Fire department officials said a woman and another man tried rescuing the victim by jumping into the water. One report said the woman grabbed the man, but could not hold onto him due to choppy waters and winds of up to 25-miles-an-hour. The incident was reported just before 6 p.m.. Rescue divers worked for most of the evening but could not find the man. The Coast Guard kept patrolling the area into the night. WTMJ-TV of Milwaukee said the search would not resume today. The man is said to be 31-years-old. Other information, including his name, was not immediately released.

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Milwaukee's Indian casino is reviewing its security measures, after a man shot-and-wounded a woman on the main gaming floor early Sunday. Ryan Amundson says the security officers at Potawatomi Bingo Casino are not armed - and when there's trouble, they're supposed to call police, be good witnesses, and keep people away. In Sunday's incident, Amundson said a female security officer tried to intervene when she got knocked over - and other security officers had responded to a medical emergency elsewhere in the building. Still, he said the police got there quickly. Police have not confirmed reports that several gamblers wrestled the gun away from the alleged 27-year-old shooter. The suspect, from Wauwatosa, met with the district attorney yesterday. He could be charged today. The shooting victim, a 23-year-old Milwaukee woman, suffered a non-life-threatening bullet wound. A witness told WTMJ-TV that two men were arguing, and the shooting victim was an innocent bystander. The casino attracts about six-million people each year. It bans weapons, and it has entrance signs to that effect. Security personnel are posted at the doors, but they do not check bags - and there are no metal detectors.

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A New York hedge fund says Smithfield Foods should be sold for more than the $4.7 billion that a Chinese firm plans to buy it for. Smithfield, which owns the Patrick Cudahy meat plant near Milwaukee, plans to sell its entire business to China's Shuanghui Company. The Starboard Value hedge fund, which owns almost six-percent of Smithfield stock, says the firm could attract more money if it was broken up into three parts and sold separately. Starboard CEO Jeffrey Smith says that if Smithfield was broken up into its pork production, pork processing, and international business units, they could get a combined 44-to-55-dollars a share instead of 34-dollars offered by the Chinese firm. You might remember that Starboard Value also used its weight as a stockholder to claim that Wausau Paper should leave Wisconsin, and focus on the production of paper towels for public restrooms. Instead, Wausau sold its mills in Rhinelander and Mosinee this spring to an equity firm that will keep running the plants and preserve hundreds of jobs.

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The owner of two tobacco shops in southeast Wisconsin has been charged with state tax evasion, and not having proper permits. 40-year-old Mohammad Siddiqui of West Allis is accused of not paying $270,000 in excise taxes in 2010 and 2012. Officials said Siddiqui did not have a distributor's permit for stores in Sheboygan and Milwaukee counties, and he did not have adequate records about purchases from his suppliers. Siddiqui is charged in Sheboygan County Circuit Court with eight misdemeanors. His initial appearance is set for July 1.

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A $200,000 cash bond was set yesterday for a northern Wisconsin woman suspected of trying to kill four-of-her-six children by asphyxiation. 37-year-old Heidi Mann of Rib Lake had a bond hearing yesterday in Taylor County Circuit Court. She hasn't been charged yet. Sheriff's deputies have asked prosecutors to file four attempted homicide charges. Mann is scheduled to make an initial appearance on her charges June 25th. She was arrested after investigators learned last week that she allegedly tried to use carbon monoxide asphyxiation on March eighth to kill four kids ages 3, 5, 8, and 11 at their Rib Lake home. Taylor County Sheriff Bruce Daniels says the children are okay, and they're being cared for by other relatives. Other details have not been released, since the matter remains under investigation.

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A Madison woman will spend 13 years in prison for killing her three-year-old son, because he ate candy-coated gum after she told him not to. 24-year-old Maria Castillo-Dominguez was convicted in Dane County of first-degree reckless homicide in the death of Luis Angel in 2011. She claimed that her boyfriend caused the death, but he was never charged. Castillo-Dominguez told police that she threw her son against a wall in her apartment, after he disobeyed her and ate some Chiclets. She also admitted hitting Luis in the face, after she ordered him to get undressed to take a bath. Police said the boy vomited after the bath, and his father took him to a Madison hospital where he died. She also faces a charge of battery by prisoners, filed in January. That case is still pending, with a trial date set for July 23rd.

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Testimony continues today in the trial of Nathan Paape, the 14-year-old Sheboygan teen accused of killing and robbing his friend's great-grandmother. In yesterday's opening statements, defense attorney Chris Petros tried to pin the whole thing on his client's friend, Antonio Barbeau. The 14-year-old Barbeau pleaded no contest to homicide and struck a plea deal in the hopes of getting a shorter sentence. Petros said Paape came home from school when Barbeau met him with a hatchet, and laid out a plan to kill-and-rob 78-year-old Barbara Olsen. The defense lawyer said Paape followed Barbeau into Olson's house and watched as Barbeau attacked her. Authorities said the two ransacked the place, and then went out to get pizza and marijuana with the money they stole. In his opening argument, District Attorney Joe DeCecco said Paape and Barbeau conspired in a plan to kill Olson - and they then carried it out together. Paape's trial is expected to run for most of the week.

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A Milwaukee mother is in custody, following the death of her week-old baby. Authorities have not released a cause of death, but have ruled it a homicide. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that the child was born on June 6 and passed away on June 13. The identity of the mother has not been released.

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Good news for the housing market in the state. The Wisconsin Realtors Association says for the 23rd-straight month, home sales is on the rise - up 18.2 percent (18.2%) from a year ago. New listings also saw an up-tick by 16.4 percent. Marquette University professor and WRA consultant David Clark says the deep recession put a lot of first-time home buyers on the sidelines... until now. He adds the positive listing statistics is a good sign because demand will be met and keeps prices from getting out of hand.

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A trial began this morning for an Illinois man accused of killing a woman and her unborn child in Door County. 36-year-old Brian Cooper of Plainfield, Illinois faces two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of third-degree sexual assault. Jurors were picked last Friday from Wood County. The trial is expected to last four days. Prosecutors said Cooper took 22-year-old Alisha Bromfield to a wedding, with the idea of improving his own romantic relationship. But she talked about breaking up, and Cooper responded by allegedly strangling the woman and sexually-assaulting her. That killed both Bromfield and her unborn child. Authorities said Cooper tried killing himself before he called police to turn himself in.

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A 31-year-old woman stabbed to death in Milwaukee last night was identified today as Alison Weddle. Police said she was killed during an argument just after 9:15 last night in a north side Milwaukee neighborhood. Police say they've identified a suspect - and were looking for that person as of early afternoon.

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Wisconsin cities and counties are scrambling to find money for Great Lakes water tests, after the federal EPA proposed a major funding cut for those tests. A state DNR official says Washington normally provides $225,000 dollars for the testing - but this year, the state will get less than of that. Only 84 of Wisconsin's 192 beaches along Lakes Michigan and Superior will get funded. The DNR says it has to make priorities - and places like Iron County in far northern Wisconsin won't get anything for its Lake Superior beaches. County health officer Zona Wick said it's possible that its beach-testing program will end. Milwaukee has 40-thousand dollars budgeted this year to help plan its efforts. Alderman Michael Murphy says good science is needed to make good decisions - and the city has an obligation to leave at least some testing funds available.

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Two farm cooperatives in eastern Wisconsin announced a merger yesterday. AgriPartners of Brillion and Country Visions of Reedsville said they would band together as of September first. The co-ops have 15 locations from Ripon to Menominee, Michigan. The merged group will use the Country Visions name. AgriPartners CEO Steve Zutz will lead the combined operation. The headquarters will be in Reedsburg at Country Visions' current facility. The AgriPartners office in Brillion will close.

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A scientist at UW-Madison says he has designed a new type of solar heating panel that attracts energy from sunlight - and stores it in the same panel. Researcher Hongrui Jiang says most solar facilities attract and store energy separately. He said he wanted to develop a panel that can do both. Jiang is an engineering professor who heads the UW's Micro-Nano Sensors and Actuators' Lab. His research is being done on a very tiny scale. It's designed to create a solar-and-battery device as part of a project to create a tunable contact lens for people who are far-sighted. The research is being done under a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

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