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Drought remains a concern
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Despite some rain in the area on Friday and Saturday, concerns over the drought conditions remain high in Crawford County.

Recent rains gave more and less relief depending on where you were. Amounts varied from a third of an inch to more than an inch. While the rain may have helped, there will have to be more if the corn and other crops are going to be productive.

Prior to the rain, Crawford County Ag Agent Vance Haugen said the county’s corn crop was getting to a critical time and if there wasn’t a significant rain by July 20 there would be problems with corn ready to tassel and pollinate.

Well, it rained some on Friday and more on Saturday. It all depended where you were.

A woman at the Ridge and Valley Parade in Seneca on Saturday told a friend that this wasn’t what’s sometimes called “a million dollar rain…it was more like a $2 million rain.” Perhaps so, but to those in the county stuck with less than a half of an inch of rain it might not have been enough.

While all crops are a concern to Haugen as the drought conditions continue, it’s the corn that was most susceptible immediately. Soybeans have the ability to go dormant and wait for rain. Alfalfa and apples have deep root systems.

While most of the county’s corn crop was suffering, but surviving last week, Haugen did note that in some parts of the county sandy soil or areas of shallow topsoil some corn was already lost.

Nevertheless, Haugen was surprised that some crops look good, even astonishingly good.

“It’s a big crap shoot right now,” Haugen said. “It’s tough for people who have thousands of dollars riding on the outcome.”

However, if farmers get a 50 percent reduction in yield it would not be the end of the world, Haugen pointed out.  The ag agent explained there have been a string of good years for price and yield going into this year and the conditions of reduced yields and no yields this year should lead to higher prices offsetting the lower yield.

The problem is different for people with cattle, the ag agent explained. If they’re corn growers, they can feed more of the failing corn to cattle and get some extra value out of it. If they’re buying feed it’s a tough position to be in because prices are bound to rise. Some analysts are predicting $8 to $9/bushel corn this year.

Livestock itself is surviving the heat by staying in shade and drinking water. However, most dairy farmers are losing milk production.

Haugen urged producers to carefully assess the situation before making any decision.

“There’s a lot of money riding on stuff and there is a lot of emotion,” he explained. “In the southern part of the state, they’re chopping corn. He urged producers to wait and make an accurate assessment instead of making a knee jerk decision that could wind up costing them in the long run.”

Haugen also urged producers to familiarize themselves with the crop insurance reporting procedures.

“It’s just like having a fender bender with your car, you have to follow procedures,” Haugen said.

The ag agent recalled farmers chopping every acre and putting it in the silo before calling in the insurance claim and then not getting paid for a crop failure or not getting their full payment because adjusters never saw the failed crop in the field.

So far, the good news is soybeans and alfalfa. Both look like they could have a good season, according to Haugen.

“There was good first and second crop hay,” Haugen said. “While the third crop might be shorter, it’s still a good year.”

What about irrigation?

“The topography in our area doesn’t really allow for it,” Haugen noted. “There’s no flat land to speak of. Irrigation in Wisconsin is something used extensively in the Central Sands of Wisconsin, but there’s almost none of it here.”

There are two pivots near Prairie du Chien and maybe one near the Richland County border. The large irrigation pivots need from 160 to 640 acres of flat land.

Haugen did note that Driftless Organics was employing some irrigation on vegetable crops in the Star Valley area.

Noah Engel, one of the owners of Driftless Organics, confirmed the operation was using more irrigation than normal, but said irrigation is used every year.

The ag agent also noted that in addition to not having the right topography, the county didn’t have the irrigation experience or equipment.

Engel agreed. He talked about waiting days for shipment of parts to fix the systems.

Haugen said that local farmer Roger Dahlberg had reminded him recently that the drought of 1988 broke on July 20. That would be this Friday.

A little more rain would make for a lot more smiles in farm country this year.