Below is a list of experts from the University of Wisconsin–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) who are available to discuss impacts of COVID-19 and provide tips and information related to some of the challenges posed by the pandemic. More CALS experts can be found in this list distributed on Apr. 1.
IMPACTS OF COVID-19 ON FARMS AND AGRICULTURAL BUSINESSES
Paul Mitchell, professor and extension cropping systems management specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics and director of the Renk Agribusiness Institute at UW–Madison, can discuss how the pandemic is affecting farms and agricultural businesses, including social distancing on farms; the need for farm operation plans; impacts on spring planting; input supply disruptions; farm labor issues; falling commodity prices; and USDA crop insurance programs. He can also discuss how new programs created under the federal CARES Act impact farms, including the Paycheck Protection Program and the Families First Coronavirus Recovery Act. Mitchell will be monitoring—and available to comment on—other new government programs designed to support the agricultural economy, as they arise, such as the recently-announced USDA plan for direct payments to farmers and bulk government purchases of commodities.
Mitchell has developed and assembled a variety of helpful resources for farmers at https://renk.aae.wisc.edu/covid-19-resources-for-farmers/.
“Agriculture is an essential industry and we are asking farmers and agricultural professionals to carry on their work during this pandemic, despite the risk to themselves and their families,” says Mitchell. “It is important to provide practical guidance to farmers during this time. The new laws passed as part of the federal pandemic response, for instance, include programs that can help farmers protect their businesses and support their employees during this pandemic. These include the Paycheck Protection Program and the Families First Coronavirus Recovery Act.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, 608-320-1162 (cell), Twitter: @mitchelluw
ECONOMIC IMPACT ON RURAL ECONOMIES AND SMALL BUSINESSES
Steven Deller is an expert on economic growth and development and a professor in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. He is available to discuss the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Wisconsin economy and rural and small economies in general, as well its impact on small businesses.
“Many state and federal agencies are looking to a range of strategies to help small businesses through the difficulties associated with COVID-19,” Deller says. “Small business owners and managers should monitor the news for information about these rapidly developing programs.”
MANAGING FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL WASTES CREATED BY SUPPLY CHAIN DISRUPTIONS
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted food supply chains, preventing some food and agricultural products from being processed or sold into their existing markets. While some products can be effectively diverted for other uses, there are some that do not have outlets and require disposal. Disruptions to the supply chain for dairy products, for example, have resulted in excess raw milk that exceeds the current storage capacity at milk processing facilities. This is impacting dairy operations in Wisconsin, where some farms have been asked to dump their milk. Down the line, it is possible that other agricultural or food products—particularly crops or other dairy products—may also need to be relegated to the waste stream.
Rebecca Larson, an associate professor and extension specialist in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, is a biowaste engineer and can provide information on methods for handling, processing and land applying these agricultural products to ease operational issues while protecting the environment.
“Many of the food products, particularly milk, can be added to manure systems and land applied using traditional techniques,” says Larson. “However, farmers should consider changes to the characteristics of their manure streams when adding food products as it will increase odors during degradation, may cause operational issues in manure handling systems, can increase manure gas production which poses human health risks, and may require additional considerations when land applying to protect the environment.”
Guidance for farmers is available at <https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/covid19/2020/04/08/considerations-for-landspreading-millk/
FOOD SAFETY AND FOOD SECURITY
Barbara Ingham, professor and extension food safety specialist in the Department of Food Science, can discuss the safety and security of our food supply as it relates to COVID-19, as well as the steps that consumers can take to help ensure the health and safety of family and friends.
Specifically, she can answer questions along the lines of:
- What do we know about the safety of take-out food and grocery store items, and how should those be handled?
- Is COVID-19 going to make us sick through the food we eat? How is it different from a foodborne illness like salmonellosis?
- Are we going to run out of food? What does it mean when I see empty store shelves?
- What are general food safety guidelines that individuals should be following right now?
“At this time, perhaps more than any other, it’s important to keep our family and friends food-safe,” says Ingham. “There are easy steps that all of us can take to make sure that the food that we choose and prepare for ourselves and our families is safe to eat.”
Ingham is sharing COVID-19-related food safety information on her blog at https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/safepreserving/.
THE HEALING AND RESTORATIVE POWER OF HORTICULTURE
Benjamin Futa, executive director of UW–Madison’s Allen Centennial Garden, has more than 10 years of leadership experience in public gardens, where he has witnessed first-hand the power and potential of green space to make communities better. Futa notes that gardens of all scales, public and private, foster respite, retreat, healing, and recovery, and many people are in need of these benefits as they endure the COVID-19 pandemic. Gardens also provide food, keep our air and water clean, and support critical wildlife. “And they’re simply beautiful,” he says.
“Gardens can save the world,” says Futa. “They nourish the mind, body, and spirit. And anyone can garden in their own way. You don’t need an acre of land or a community garden plot. If you have an indoor plant on a windowsill, you’re gardening.”
Contact: email@example.com, (574) 310-9623 (cell)
STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION AND BEHAVIOR CHANGE
Bret Shaw, associate professor in the Department of Life Sciences Communication and environmental communication specialist for the Division of Extension, is an expert in strategic communication designed to encourage behavior change related to environmental and health-related issues. He can discuss the role of communication and social psychology to influence the public to adopt certain practices, such as social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Using strategic communication and behavior change principles to encourage people to adopt practices such as physical distancing is essential to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Shaw says. “Well-intended efforts to influence behavior change often depend on sharing information, but it is well known that information alone is typically insufficient to change behavior. Using principles from social psychology and strategic communication, we can make a difference in influencing people to adopt behaviors that prevent the spread of illness and save lives.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @BretShaw1
INFORMATION, MISINFORMATION AND PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING OF THE PANDEMIC
COVID-19 is a “new” type of crisis for science. Much of the scientific facts about the virus and the likely effectiveness of vaccines or therapies emerges in real time as the crisis spreads. Dietram Scheufele, Taylor-Bascom Professor of Science Communication in the Department of Life Sciences Communication, can answer questions related to information, misinformation and public understanding of the COVID-19 crisis, such as: How can we all make sense of the deluge of information and misinformation that’s coming our way? What can journalists and scientists do to better communicate about coronavirus and about societal debates emerging in its wake? And how can societies reasonably weigh difficult options, including logistics for reopening the economy or tracking private cell phones to monitor infections?
In 2017, Scheufele vice-chaired a committee for the National Academies that summarized what is known about how to best communicate science during times of crisis. He notes that the conclusions from that report (available at https://www.nap.edu/catalog/23674/communicating-science-effectively-a-research-agenda), and from science communication research more broadly, are crucially important as we try to find ways out of a crisis that is a complicated amalgam of biology, public health, and social science.
“Not only is there a lot the scientific community does not yet know about COVID-19, but much of what it thinks it knows—what it now considers “accurate”—could turn out to be wrong,” says Scheufele. “When today’s facts can easily become tomorrow’s fictions, it is difficult to even define ‘misinformation,’ much less to ‘correct’ it. So it’s important to explore what strategies can we use to effectively sift through all the (mis)information coming our way? And what can we do to make sure we rely on the best evidence when we decide whether to wear masks or to get takeout from our local restaurant?”
THE 2020 CENSUS: ITS IMPORTANCE AND COVID-19 ADJUSTMENTS
The 2020 Census is underway, and with it comes the prospect of new data that will affect funding, infrastructure and political representation for communities of all sizes. Dan Veroff, a distinguished outreach specialist with the Applied Population Laboratory in the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology and the UW–Madison Division of Extension, has coordinated the Wisconsin State Data Center (a membership network partnering with the U.S. Census Bureau) for the last 20 years.
He can provide updates on the plans and schedule for the 2020 Census, including some important changes in the way data is being collected and some operational and timing adjustments resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Veroff can also discuss other logistics related to the 2020 Census, the importance of an accurate and complete count of the population, and the primary uses of census data for apportionment, redistricting, funding, and planning for services and emergency preparedness.
“I think of the decennial census as both a civics lesson and an easy opportunity for everyone to have a voice in the future of their communities. Complete and accurate census counts are critical for political representation, for making sure that our communities get the funding they need, and to help plan for services and needed infrastructure, such as roads, schools and hospitals. In my role with Extension, census data is also at the heart of telling the story of communities and helping to shed light on important population changes — such as aging, increasing diversity, and patterns of growth or decline in rural Wisconsin.”
Contact: email@example.com, (608) 265-9545 (please leave a voicemail), (608) 347-4048. Note: With lead time, Veroff can prepare comments or interview materials in Spanish.