Drought continues throughout state

This week's report said 20 percent of the corn crops and 24 percent of the soybean crops were classified as "very poor" as of Sept. 12. Last year at the same date, "very poor" ratings applied to only 4 percent of the corn crops and 3 percent of the soybean crops. Bob Hunter, a statistician for WASS, said the reports are not meant to predict crop yields.

The state as a whole has been hurting for precipitation for roughly two and a half years, according to Bob Oleson, a farmer and executive director of the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association.

The precipitation deficit in the city of Milwaukee for the year is the lowest in the state, Young said. Milwaukee has a precipitation debt of 11 inches for the year.

In addition, "last year, (Milwaukee) started to fall behind on rain with a very, very dry first half of the summer and a dry fall," said John Young, a state climatologist. "For the year 2002, Milwaukee was eight inches down roughly."

The rest of the state, however, had been doing relatively well for the beginning of the summer, Oleson said.

"We had what we thought was a record-breaking corn crop around the Fourth of July, " he said. "But since the end of June every major city in the state, except Green Bay, has been five or six inches behind" average precipitation levels.

"My belief is a lot of crops have been lost already," Young said. "You're not going to grow corn on Sept. 15."

As a result of a crop failure, the governor can request federal disaster relief, according to Matt Tompach, federal policy maker for the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture. Farmers have to evaluate crop reductions and give that data to the governor, who requests disaster relief based on that information, he said.

"The crop evaluations will happen," Tompach said. "The actual request will depend on what the reports show." Farmers must report a 30 percent crop loss to qualify for low-level loans, which are the first level of assistance. If crop failure is significant enough, farmers may receive government payments, he said.

Oleson said federal payments only aim to keep farmers in business. The money aims to recoup losses, not to maintain profit levels and an expectedly good national corn crop could also hurt corn farmers, he said.

"Nationally, we're looking at a pretty good corn yield, so the price is not going up," Oleson said. "It moved up a little, but not enough to really help."

Another result of this drought is the increased probability of wild fires. Bob Manwell, public affairs manager for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said fire danger ratings have been high and the number of fires under their primary responsibility has risen.

He said early reporting of fires and quick responses from WDNR teams have kept damage at a minimum, and reported "all fire danger ratings have dropped" after the weekend rains.