Drought declared 'severe'
JANESVILLE White, puffy clouds floated Thursday afternoon over Rock County.
"In 2008, if we saw clouds like that, all of a sudden we would have gotten five inches of rain," said Judy Schambow, conservationist with the Farm Service Agency office in Rock County.
That was the summer the Rock River overflowed its banks and farmers dealt with flooded fields.
"Today," Schambow said of the clouds, "nothing."
National weather and agricultural agencies on Thursday upgraded southern Wisconsin's drought conditions to "severe." That's a change from a previous rating of "moderate."
In much of southern Wisconsin, short-term rainfall totals indicate a deficit of 5 inches, according to National Weather Service data. That translates into rainfall that is less than 20 percent of normal in many places. In some places, including parts of Rock County, rainfall is less than 5 percent of normal, according to the data.
In addition to below-average rainfall, high temperatures have sapped soil moisture. Temperatures in June were five degrees higher than average. They have been between 8 and 11 inches above average during the first 11 days of July, according to National Weather Service data.
The "severe drought" rating likely will mean federal aid for local farmers, who are looking at severe yield losses to local corn, soybean and alfalfa crops, Schambow said. But first, the federal government must pass a farm bill, she said. Most disaster programs expired in 2011.
When the bill is passed, producers and agribusiness professionals will know more about the kind of relief that farmers can expect from disaster programs, she said.
To be on the safe side, Schambow has started collecting the kind of data she will need to report if the area gets a federal disaster rating. Historically, that rating has been granted to cover losses of about 30 percent, Schambow said.
Based on her years of experience at the agency, Schambow said she thinks this will be one of those years.
"Any of us could look out the window and know we're there," she said.
Every day she sees the stress in the eyes of farmers who come to the Farm Service Agency, Schambow said. Some local banks and insurance companies have been holding drought meetings to help producers understand what they have to do.
A good rainfall could turn things around, Schambow said. If local fields got one good rainfall followed by normal rain for the rest of the summer, local soybeans could still meet average yields. Early alfalfa crops were good, and a good rain in the next few days could bring the alfalfa crop back from the brink of burning up and yield a third crop.
Producers are encouraged to report production and report what's happening in the fields, Schambow said. They should be certain to talk with Farm Service Agency representatives as well as their insurance agents before making any changes in fields.
More than anything, Schambow said she hopes a good rainfall followed by a few more make her pre-disaster declaration paperwork a moot point.
"I'm hoping when I get this whole, stupid disaster report done, it will be a waste of time," Schambow said.
TO LEARN MORE
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has organized a list of websites with information for producers and consumers about the drought. Find the roundup of information at datcp.wi.gov.
In particular, producers should be aware of
the state's Farm Center services. The center provides financial planning, mediation with creditors, farmer-to-farmer hay lists and other services to
help farmers work safely through stressful situations.
Farmers or small-agribusiness owners may call 1-800-942-2474 or visit the fourth floor of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection building at 2811 Agriculture Drive on Madison's south side.