ARENA (WKOW) -- After months of pleas from farmers asking for help, the Wisconsin DNR and the USDA are opening up state and federal lands for farmers to find food for their cattle and horses.
This week, the DNR announced they have about 160 wildlife areas, parks, and state forests that will be opened for haying and grazing -- about 11,500 acres of grassland and marsh. Farmers have to contact the DNR to get a permit, and will be assigned an area to hay for free, until the crop runs out.
Rod Anding has been baling hay in the Arena Marsh since he was a child the 1950's, and he's been raising crops and livestock for decades. Anding says he's never seen a drought as bad as this year. He says right now, hay prices are three to four times above normal and many farmers are struggling to afford to keep their animals alive, so the free resource is a blessing.
"It's bad, it's extremely bad. They're [farmers] not playing a game, they're not blowing it out of proportion. For a farmer to see a cornfield die is just like seeing a cow die, your animals die," says Anding.
It's not just Wisconsin -- with about 20 states in an extreme drought -- the USDA is now allowing farmers who are part of the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to use land that's been set aside for years. Some farmers have signed 10 to 15 year contracts with the government, to set aside a parcel of land. As of August 2, those farmers in designated drought areas will be able to hay or graze their CRP land, if they contact the local Farm Service Agency (FSA).
"Some of that land is perfectly suitable for grazing livestock on, so if farmers are facing a critical feed shortage this might be one tool that they use to take that crop off of the field or to graze the animals across the field and add to their feed supplies," says Casey Langan, executive director of public relations with the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.
The only problem -- Anding says it's too late. He believes much of the state's reserved land won't produce quality feed, but for some farmers, that might be the best they can get.
"It's so thin, it's so dry and so late that I'm going to have to cut and cut and cut to get one bale," says Anding.
Langan says he hopes the agriculture community will work together during this drought-- like corn growers sharing unusable crops with livestock farmers, to keep them from having to sell off their herds.
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