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Drought resources available after disaster declaration
dry corn field
Corn varies in quality from one field to another (this is on Grant County D south of Platteville), and sometimes within the same field.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture designated Grant, Lafayette and Iowa counties as disaster areas last week due to this summer’s drought.

During the 2012 crop year, the USDA has designated 1,369 counties across 31 states as disaster areas — 1,234 due to drought — making all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans.

During the week ending July 22, the portion of the U.S. corn crop rated in very poor to poor condition climbed to 45 percent, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Soybeans rated very poor to poor rose to 35 percent. Such ratings for both commodities have increased for seven consecutive weeks.

During the same period, from June 3 to July 22, the portion of the U.S. corn rated good to excellent fell from 72 to 26 percent. Soybeans rated good to excellent tumbled from 65 to 31 percent. The current corn and soybean ratings represent the lowest conditions at any time of year since 1988. At the same time, 55 percent of the nation’s pastures and rangeland are rated in very poor or poor condition.

Federal and state government actions related to the drought include:

Conservation standards: Some farmers in the 23 Wisconsin counties designated as drought disaster areas may be released temporarily from complying with conservation standards. Farmers in Lafayette and Iowa counties may also be permitted to hay and graze on lands pulled out of production for conservation.

Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary Ben Brancel said farmers participating in the Farmland Preservation program can work with their county land conservation offices to harvest corn early for silage and remove other crop residues this year, to help ease drought-related feed shortages. Brancel is encouraging Lafayette and Iowa county farmers with acreage in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to work with county conservation departments to expedite requests to local Farm Service Agency offices to allow haying and grazing on that acreage.

Farmland Preservation is a state program that provides tax credits to farmers who keep their land out of non-agricultural development and meet soil erosion and manure management standards. Ordinarily, removing crops and crop residues early would not be permitted, because it could leave land vulnerable to erosion. But the need to chop corn for silage rather than lose it entirely, and to provide feed for livestock, prompted Brancel to lift the restriction temporarily.

In a letter to county conservationists, Brancel asked county conservationists in the 31 counties to:

•    Allow farmers in the Farmland Preservation Program to harvest corn early for silage and to remove other crop residues for use as livestock feed.

•    Encourage farmers to plant temporary cover crops to replace the corn and crop residues and prevent erosion. If successful, those crops could provide forage for livestock in the fall.

•    Work with farmers to plant winter crops, such as wheat, on the harvested acreage. Again, this would prevent erosion on lands that would otherwise be left bare and could provide feed or a crop for sale early in the next growing season.

•    Encourage farmers to consult local UW–Extension agents or agronomists about the suitability of the early-harvest corn silage and other crop residues for feed, since there could be toxicity or nutrition concerns.

CRP grazing OK’d: Wisconsin Farm Service Agency Executive Director Brad Pfaff announced Wednesday that in response to drought conditions, FSA has authorized emergency grazing use of Conservation Reserve Program acres for Grant, Lafayette and Iowa counties.

Grazing is authorized according to an amended conservation plan obtained from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and approved by FSA.

“Eligible producers who are interested in emergency grazing of CRP must request approval from FSA before grazing eligible acreage,” said Pfaff. “It is also important for producers to obtain a modified conservation plan from the Natural Resources Conservation Service that includes grazing requirements.”

Upon approval of emergency grazing, producers must leave at least 25 percent of CRP acres for wildlife or graze at 75 percent of the normal stocking rate. There will be a 10 percent CRP payment reduction on acres actually grazed.

To take advantage of the emergency grazing provisions, authorized producers can use the CRP acreage for their own livestock or may grant another livestock producer use of the CRP acreage for the purpose of grazing.

For more information and to request approval for emergency grazing of CRP acres contact your local FSA office.

The USDA is altering rules to allow haying on lands enrolled in conservation programs and in some cases extending those opportunities to farmers, whose land is classified as “abnormally dry,” rather than “under severe drought.”

The USDA is also encouraging crop insurance companies to offer a short grace period on interest for unpaid crop insurance premiums, as some farming families may struggle to make ends meet at the close of the crop year.

The flexibility in haying and grazing affects the Conservation Reserve Program and three other USDA programs, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Wetlands Reserve Program and the Federal Crop Insurance Program.
Farmers can harvest hay from approximately 11,500 acres of selected state-owned lands. Farmers may also graze cattle on state-owned land, although they will be responsible for setting up temporary electric fencing and watering tanks to facilitate the grazing.

The special harvest ends Aug. 10 for prairie grasses and Aug. 30 for cool season grasses. The Department of Natural Resources is limiting haying and grazing to this time period to allow for adequate regrowth of the grass to provide habitat for wildlife and hunting cover to sportsmen and women in the fall.   Only one cutting of hay will be allowed during the harvest window.

Farmers participating in the program will be required to sign an agreement specifying that the hay taken from state-owned property will be used for livestock and not sold. Areas authorized for harvesting do not include nor in any way affect land to be used for or previously sold under hay sale agreements with the department.

Disaster loans: Farm Service Agency loans are available to farmers in Grant, Lafayette and Iowa counties who suffered qualified losses or damages from the drought.

The loans are capped at $500,000 at 2.25 percent interest. Loans generally are from one to seven years, and sometimes can be extended to 20 years.

The loan amount is based upon both actual production losses of crops or pasture compared with the previous three-year history, in addition to physical losses such as losses to perennial crops, livestock production, animals, or other losses.

FSA generally only makes secured loans, so enough collateral must be available to fully secure the loan. Farmers must show that they can repay the loan and all other debts based upon their history. All applicants must be farm operators with a good credit history.

The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority also is offering drought relief assistance by accepting applications for its Drought Relief Guarantee Program.

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

To use the Drought Relief Guarantee Program, eligible farmers must be expected to lose 40 percent or more of their crops due to drought conditions. Loan proceeds can be used for fertilizer, seed, fuel, pesticides, tillage services, crop insurance, water delivery and animal feed.

For more information and eligibility requirements about WHEDA’s Drought Relief Guarantee Program, please visit

Irrigation permits: Farms with access to irrigation equipment can get fast review of emergency crop irrigation from lakes and rivers from the DNR.

Emergency permits for semis: Through June 30, 2013, the state Division of Motor Vehicles Motor Carrier Services Section will issue free permits authorizing the transport of heavier loads of hay bales during daylight hours along non-posted state and local roadways under the following conditions:

•    Maximum overall height of 14 feet 6 inches, width of 12 feet, and length of 75 feet for combination vehicles and 45 feet for single vehicles.

•     Maximum gross weight not to exceed 90,000 pounds on vehicle combination with a minimum of five axles (or axle weights not to exceed 115 percent of vehicle weight if the vehicle is not in combination or has four or fewer axles).

•     Vehicles must be registered for a minimum of 50,000 pounds gross vehicle weight, or be exempt from registration as an “Implement of Husbandry” as defined in state law.

All permit conditions impacting size, weight, flagging, signing, and hours of operation must be complied with, along with all other laws pertaining to posted weight limits, load securement, driver hours of service, vehicle registration and taxation.  The permits allow transport of heavier loads of hay bales Monday through Sunday, except for Labor Day weekend Aug. 31–Sept. 3 and Memorial Day weekend 2013.

The permit must be carried in the permitted vehicle and be made available to law enforcement upon request. Those interested in applying for a permit should contact WisDOT’s Oversize/Overweight Permits Unit, (608) 266-7320.

Online resources: Several state government websites have drought information, including:

•    The Wisconsin Emergency Management’s one-stop place for information related to all aspects of the drought is

•    The site is an online marketplace where farmers in short supply of hay, forage and corn supplies can get help. A new feature on that site helps drought-stricken farmers move their livestock to literally greener pastures.

•    The UW–Extension Drought 2012 website,,  is a comprehensive resource with a signup for updates.