Farmers: drought continues taking toll on harvests - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Farmers: drought continues taking toll on harvests

PLEASANT SPRINGS (WKOW) -- Wisconsin and three quarters of the nation are still in a drought or dealing with dry conditions to some degree. It's been a problem for farmers ever since the spring.

Back in July, we saw extreme heat that not only dried up crops but also hurt milk production on dairy farms. 27 News talked with Dan Niesen, a dairy farmer from Pleasant Springs, who at that time was still hoping conditions would turn around and we'd see more rain.

Now, Niesen is trying to come up with new ways to feed his animals, after losing more than half his alfalfa crop. Normally, 10,000 bales will get him through the year, feeding about 60 cattle, but now he only has 2,000 left.

"We're going to be short all winter, so we're using some alternative strategies," Niesen says. "I'm going to try to stretch my hay as far as I can. Hopefully I'll get pretty close to where I need to be till next spring."

Niesen says his corn crop wasn't as bad as he thought it'd be, but he was only able to harvest about 50 percent. He had to keep grass hay he would normally sell to horse owners, which will help keep the cattle fed until May, but he still expects to have to sell at least 10 of his dairy cows, and maybe some of the younger ones too.

Niesen says milk production is still down. The cows never came back from low production caused by the heat, and he says they won't do well again until the cows have another calf next year.

Niesen estimates that consumers may see an increase in milk price at the store, by 25 percent. He says beef prices are low right now, but that will only last through the end of the year, as farmers sell off their herds. He expects prices to spike and stay high for a while.

Farmers predict that if we don't get a lot of rain and snow in winter to restock the groundwater reservoirs, things could be just as bad next season too.

"We're going to be in a world of hurt starting right off the bat next spring," says Niesen. "There are things I cannot control, and one of the things I can't control right now is the weather."

Sun Prairie corn grower Jerry Bradley says he's in the middle of harvesting his crops. He says the corn production was just as bad as he expected it would be, but his soybeans fared much better than previously thought.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reports 75.9 percent of the country is still in a drought or abnormally dry. In Wisconsin, some counties in the southern portion of the state remain in extreme drought conditions, and much of southern Wisconsin is in a severe drought. The entire state is experiencing drought conditions, with the exception of a good part of Door County.

The latest USDA crop progress report shows conditions in Wisconsin are overall worse than usual, with just 7 percent of corn crop appearing "excellent" and 29 percent "good" as of September 30.

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