New program to help dairy farmers struggling with drought - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

New program to help dairy farmers struggling with drought

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DANE COUNTY (WKOW) -- In response to the crippling drought conditions, Dane County is offering a new program that will help struggling dairy farmers feed their livestock while cleaning up area lakes.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi attended a drought meeting Wednesday morning with Deputy United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Rebecca Blue. Blue toured farms in the area to see the problems with which local farmers are dealing.
  
"This summer's extreme drought has resulted in significant crop damage, with some estimates suggesting up to 70 percent of the crops intended to feed cows have been lost," Parisi said. "Our hard working dairy cows need quality feed to keep making milk, and under this new effort, we hope to help some of our farmers reduce the cost of buying forage this winter."
 
"I think making sure that we're all working together to keep agriculture going strong in the future is definitely a priority for Secretary Vilsack and President Obama as well," Blue said.
 
Dane County farmers could sign up to receive financial assistance to plant their fields in the coming weeks under this new effort. They could plant small grains like barley, oats, or winter wheat and harvest it this fall to ensure their cattle would have feed this winter. 
 
Parisi said that while the recent rains have helped some areas, the damage from this summer's drought was already done to many of our farm fields.
 
"This effort will help farmers who would otherwise need to spend a lot buying feed all winter; unanticipated costs that unfortunately could harm our county's dairy industry," Parisi said. 
 
Many local farmers, however, are worried about the effects the drought had on their crops.

"This could be the tipping point for some farms," Tina Hinchley, co-founder of Hinchley Dairy Farm, said. "If you can't feed the girls, they're going to have to go. So unfortunately that's a sad story."

Hinchley say this drought isn't just the farmers' pain, but the consumers' pain too.

"The corn that's growing in your backyard as you drive around Wisconsin, that corn affects you," Hinchley said. "It's not just cow food, it's people food, it's fuel, it's fiber. There's so many things that corn does that people are not aware of."

Parisi says there are nearly 400 dairy farms in Dane County and it's an industry that supports an estimated 4,000 jobs with an annual economic impact of $700 million dollars. 
 
The crops planted through the program would grow through the winter months for a harvest in the spring, resulting in an estimated 2,000 tons of forage feed for livestock.
 
This will reduce spring run-off and erosion that results in pollutants entering the county's waterways because keeping fields full in the summer and fall will also help keep area lakes clean. 
 
The early harvest has left fields vulnerable to increased phosphorus erosion from significant rainfall events. Phosphorus is the leading cause of unsightly algae blooms in area lakes.
 
Under the program, farmers could plant on up to 30 of their acres lost to the drought. The grains must be used for forage feed of livestock and cannot be harvested for grain.
 
The total funding available to farmers through the program is $30,000 and participation is first come, first serve. Those interested need to contact the Dane County Department of Land and Water Resources, Division of Land Conversation at 608-224-3730.
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