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Farmers Banding Together in Drought-Stricken Wisconsin

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Record-setting drought is harding farmers hard

Crop damage in to Wisconsim farms. Photo courtesy of AP

Scorching heat and record low rainfall has hit farmers across the country hard as Scott Bayer can attest. He is forced to do much of his farm work after dark to avoid the heat.  With the State Fair approaching, Bayer typically enjoys this time of year when all the hard work he has done getting his prize beef cattle ready pays off. Not so this year as his cows are losing weight rather than “beefing” up because they are eating less.

Bayer says farmers are seriously stressed as a result of the drought that is making it tough to make a living whether you raise livestock or grow crops. Still, the Wisconsin State Fair, now in its 161st year, saw record crowds. Part of the reason is because farmers received help from those who understand best – other farmers. CEO of the fair, Rick Frenette attributes it a feeling of camaraderie, sense of let’s work together to get through this among farmers and the state at large. He says the farming community has come together, much like a large family in a time of crises would. As for the farmers’ urban counterparts, it has given them a chance to see what’s going on as a result of the drought and why it’s so difficult to put food on everyone’s table.

The southern part of the state has been hardest hit, losing as much as half of the crops raised there to the record-breaking drought. A few have considered reducing the size of their herds because they can’t feed them adequately. Farmers in the central and northern part of the states are pitching in though.

Crops grown through irrigation methods, such as potatoes, sweet corn, peas and beans are out of the ground July and the first part of August. These fields typically sit empty until they are replanted in the fall with another crop. Instead, many farmers are growing a mid-season crop of grasses that will be used to feed the livestock of their neighbors.

Wisconsin’s Secretary of Agriculture Ben Brancel is delighted by his state’s farmers reaching out to the fellow farmers like this. He knows the gravity of the situation faced by many who planted this past spring with high hopes only to watch the plants grow, then wither and die.

Recent rainfalls have lifted spirits somewhat and there is a spark of optimism. In addition to the support coming from other farmers, the state government has made conservation lands available for the growing of much needed feed. If negative cattle sales happen, then there are fewer cows to produce milk – a staple of Wisconsin’s world renowned cheese industry. And the ripple effect doesn’t stop there. With less farming going on, there is less need for equipment and supplies.

To aid the process, Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker and the University of Wisconsin-Extension program have worked together to form the “Farmer to Farmer Network.” The service allows those farmers with feed to connect with those who need it as a result of the drought.

AS for the prize vegetables and plants shown at the fair as well as the prize animals, most were unaffected by the drought as they typically receive special care all year even under the best of conditions. If there was a notable difference that might be attributed to the drought it is the fact that now record-setting ribbons were awarded in any categories.

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