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Drought emergency declared by state
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Gov. Scott Walker Monday declared a state of emergency in Grant, Lafayette and Iowa counties due to drought or abnormally dry conditions, allowing expedited permits for farmers to temporarily use stream or lake water for irrigation.

“The lack of rainfall since May in the southern half of the state has hit hard in a crucial part of the growing season,” said Walker in a news release. “Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service reports this week that most of the land in these counties is short or very short of soil moisture, and this week’s U.S. Drought Monitor for the first time reported the southern tiers of Wisconsin counties to be in drought.

“These farm families are suffering under the stress and worry, but this is also a matter of statewide importance. Agriculture adds more than $59 billion to our economic output every year, and accounts for 354,000 jobs – one in every 10 Wisconsinite depends on agriculture for employment. It’s a vital sector of our economy that we need to protect.”

The declaration covers Adams, Brown, Buffalo, Calumet, Clark, Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Grant, Green, Green Lake, Iowa, Jackson, Jefferson, Juneau, Kenosha, Kewaunee, La Crosse, Lafayette, Marquette, Manitowoc, Milwaukee, Monroe, Outagamie, Ozaukee, Portage, Racine, Richland, Rock, Sauk, Sheboygan, Trempealeau, Vernon, Walworth, Washington, Waukesha, Waupaca, Waushara, Winnebago and Wood counties, and any county contiguous to those 42 counties at the discretion of the secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and upon written notification to the governor.

During a state of emergency, the DNR can expedite requests from farmers to divert water from streams and lakes for irrigation. The DNR must inspect the stream or lake in question within 72 hours of the request, to assure that fish and other aquatic life will not be harmed by the diversion.

The state is encouraging farmers to report crop conditions to their local U.S. Farm Service Agency office. The FSA compiles this information. Information gathered would provide the basis for the governor to request a disaster declaration by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, which could make low-cost emergency loans and other assistance available to farmers.

Farmers can also turn to the Wisconsin Farm Center, housed in the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The Farm Center staff can provide referrals and information about available services, including such things as finding feed, financial planning assistance, and mediation between farmers and creditors. Farmers can call the center toll-free at 1-800-942-2474, or email farmcenter@wisconsin.gov. The center is staffed weekdays from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.