Coping with drought
Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) Secretary Ben Brancel visited Dave Heideman’s farm near Clintonville Wednesday, Aug. 1, to discuss current drought condition and highlight the resources available to farms in distress.
“There is a serious shortage of forage material right now,” Brancel said. “The corn crop is very poor in southern Wisconsin. There are other areas farther north, such as Iola, where the corn is almost as bad. Recent rains have helped a little bit, but some farms have only had seven-tenths of an inch of rain since May. Some acres look fine, while others just 10 miles away are in terrible shape. Some farmers may have a fair corn supply, but no hay; others may have some hay, but not a good corn crop. Each farmer has different needs.”
Heideman said his farm has done fairly well despite the drought conditions.
“I have 185 acres of corn, and I’ve been fortunate to get enough rain to produce a decent crop,” he said. “The rain has been spotty, but the storms passing through in recent weeks have really helped. The problem is most of the rain has been very concentrated.”
State Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-6th Dist., said Governor Scott Walker has made the drought concerns a priority.
“The state is responsible for incentives to boost job growth, but this drought has pushed to the forefront and the governor is addressing it accordingly,” Tauchen said. “This drought isn’t just affecting us. Most of the region has been impacted, including the states of Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana.”
Brancel said many farmers are frustrated and aren’t sure where to turn for help. He stressed that many options are available, and encouraged farmers to consider them all before making any drastic decisions. Cow numbers going into the market are increasing, but Brancel said he has not heard of any total herd sell-offs to this point.
“The University of Wisconsin Extension has a great Farmer to Farmer Program that helps farmers communicate with each other to let one another know what they have and what they need,” Brancel explained. “The purpose of the Farmer to Farmer program is to find out what others need and offer what you have. Many vegetable growers are already contacting each other and working together. We’re trying to get more forage crops added, because we can get through this drought better together than we could on our own.”
Other resources are available as well, including Farm Service Agency emergency loans and WHEDA drought relief funding.
“Our hope is that farmers explore all their options, rather than just throwing in the towel,” said Brancel. Heideman is one farmer who was aware of the Farmer to Farmer program, and is currently offering some of his corn crop for any farmer in need.
“I heard about the Farmer to Farmer Program, and it sounded like a great idea,” Heideman said. “I visited the website (www.farmertofarmer.uwex.edu) and signed up. It’s an easy site to use. I’ve sold some corn already, but I have 100 acres available. It should be an average crop. Farmers all work together, and the Farmer to Farmer Program is a great method to help farmers do that.”
According to Brancel, there are currently around 27 farmers offering commodities, and another six or seven offering hay. He said those numbers are increasing every day.
“If farmers continue to work together, we can get through this,” Brancel said. “Talk with each other; talk to your neighbors; contact the FSA. Explore all your options.”
Brancel says there are opportunities for flexibility, as many different approaches to solving drought issues are available.
“The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is opening up some public land for farmers to use. Check with your regional DNR office for availability. Also, talk to someone at the Farm Service Agency,” he suggested. “You may not be able to get premier crops, but you could feed it out to younger stock in order to free up your best crops for your dairy cows.”
Another helpful resource is the Ready Wisconsin website (www.ready.wi.gov). This website lists all state agencies that can help meet farmers’ needs-whether they be crop related or health related.
“Many farmers are under a lot of mental stress as they try to get through this drought,” Brancel said. “They don’t have feed for their herd, they are getting pressure from their bank, or they are unsure how to help a family member or friends get through this. We’re taking calls of this nature at the DATCP, and we encourage farmers to continue to call, because we’re here to help with these issues too.”
Brancel said the full impact of this year’s drought will not be known for another 18 months.
“We are still 18 months away from seeing the full impact of this year’s drought,” he said. “Pastures have been very dry. Corn crops will be down this year. Soybeans still could be good if we get some timely rains. The impact on sweet corn should be small. Cereals shouldn’t be affected much this year, as the corn price won’t be significantly impacted this year. There is plenty of meat on the market right now; cow numbers are fine, and meat shouldn’t increase much.
“A year from now, we may see some harsh impacts from this drought,” Brancel explained. “There may be a meat shortage a year from now, and corn and soybean prices may be affected a year from now.”
Tauchen, Heideman and Brancel all agreed that the best way to make it through the drought is to use the resources provided by the state and to work together with each other.
“There are many options available, we just have to work together,” concluded Brancel.