Gov. Scott Walker (right) walks with farmer Jeff Erhhart and Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp during a tour of Erhhart’s farm July 20. (Photo by Jennifer Eisenbart)

Recent rainfalls not enough to save crops, officials speculate

 

By Christopher Bennett

Correspondent

It’s not the consistent, days-long drenching rain desired by farmers and producers, but help is now available for those in the local agriculture industry being crippled by this summer’s drought.

On the federal level the help is in the form of low-interest loans and easing of land-use restrictions.

On the state level there are also loan guarantees and low-interest loans.

Recently Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker worked with the United States Department of Agriculture to designate 23 drought-stricken counties in Wisconsin as natural disaster areas. The designation includes Walworth and Racine counties.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and Department of Transportation also recently announced initiatives to aid farmers.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor Walworth County and much of southeast Wisconsin is in the midst of Extreme Drought Conditions, the agency’s second-worse rating.

In the USDA’s Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin dated July 24 the agency noted the following regarding recent rains and the condition of the corn crop: “The rain proved too little too late, or was missed entirely for some in southern Wisconsin, where reporters noted farmers chopping their dried out or non-pollinating corn for silage.”

Tom Oasen, county executive director for the Farm Service Agency for Walworth County, a federal agency, said yields will be down, but it’s too early to tell by how much.

“Is there loss out there?” Oasen said. “Yes, we know there is. We know there will be a loss but how much, I don’t know.”

Oasen said he learned some recent rain helped the soybean crop but did little for corn, and speculated it might be too little, too late for the crop.

The low-interest loans available through the federal government are designed to help farmers cover losses not paid for through crop insurance, and can be used to bridge the income gap or purchase feed for animals.

“It’s (eligibility) based on production losses, so we’re going to have to wait for the season to end so we know the harvest,” Oasen said.

The federal government is also allowing farmers to use land previously protected under the Conservation Reserve Program. Under CRP farmers and producers agree not to use certain plots of land for several years.

According to Oasen, farmers can now petition to use the land for grazing and haying. They must approach and receive permission from their local FSA office.

On the state level, the natural disaster designation means all farmers in the affected counties are eligible for low-interest loans.

Walker recently toured farms in southeast Wisconsin to assess the state of the drought. State Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, accompanied the governor.

“Under this designation, all qualified farm operators in the affected counties are eligible for low-interest emergency loans,” Walker said in a recent press release. “We are doing everything we can to assist farmers who are losing crops due to the extended period where we saw a lack of rain combined with extreme heat. This is one more option for farmers trying to recover from the drought.”

Loan guarantees are also available through the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.

In a recent press release the governor’s office announced The Drought Relief Guarantee Program is a financing product that will provide a 90 percent guarantee on agricultural loans up to $15,000 for three years.

In addition, WHEDA will provide interest reduction payments to lender partners allowing for lower interest rate loans for drought-affected farms.

DATCP and DOT, in conjunction, also recently eased restrictions on the size of loads farmers are allowed to carry on non-posted state and local roadways. The restrictions are being eased to allow farmers to haul larger loads of hay, and the initiative extends through June 30, 2013.

More details are available at http://www.ready.wi.gov/, a state-run website designed to offer citizens information about natural and technological disasters. Additional information is also available at the DATCP website – http://datcp.wi.gov/.

The Walworth office of the FSA is located at 225 O’Connor Drive in Elkhorn, and can be contacted by calling (262) 723-3216. When prompted, press “2” for the proper extension. The FSA website is www.fsa.usda.gov.

Both Oasen and DATCP urge farmers to contact their local FSA office regarding any action to deal with the drought, whether it’s harvesting early, utilizing crop insurance, using irrigation and more.

 

 
 

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