Drought, high temperatures and other unusual weather conditions were the primary factors affecting agriculture in Wisconsin in 2012. The most visible effects were fields of stunted corn and sunburned alfalfa. This visible evidence of crop stress was manifested in sharp reductions in yields and production. According to the "Status of Wisconsin Agriculture 2013" report, Wisconsin corn production was down 17% from 2011, soybean output was off 11%. Hardest hit was alfalfa with production down nearly a third. Some vegetable and fruit crops were also hit by the drought and heat, especially those grown without irrigation.
At 121 bushels per acre, the corn yield per acre in Wisconsin was the lowest since 1995.
Dairy farmers and other livestock producers faced the dual problem of less home-grown feed available and much higher prices for purchased feed due to the widespread nature of the 2012 drought. Fortunately for some, larger than normal forage carryover, supplemental forage crops and additional corn silage salvaged from fields that did not make a corn crop added to the forage supply.
The huge question now is whether soil moisture can be replenished enough in the early months of 2013 to avoid a repeat of the drought of 2012? A drought sequel would yield a feed supply either inadequate or too expensive to maintain current livestock numbers, forcing dairy and livestock operations to reduce the size of their herds and flocks and sharply raising consumer costs for animal-based foods, the report said. A "normal" year would help rebuild stocks and help keep food and feed prices under control.
But UW-Extension climatologist Bill Bland, who spoke at the Wisconsin Ag Outlook Forum on Jan. 23 at UW-Madison, said, "While we're not out of the drought yet, I'm optimistic we'll go into the growing season with adequate soil moisture.
"Much of the state is slowly crawling out of the drought," Bland noted. "We have plenty of opportunities for precipitation between now and May 1. I'm pretty optimistic we will pull out of the drought."
While Wisconsin's net farm income was at historically high levels in 2012, the drought created large disparity in net income among farmers depending on where and what they produced, according to the report. Crop farmers in areas of the state unaffected by the drought did well. But those without crop insurance who ended up disking under stunted corn incurred huge losses. Dairy farmers who were able to harvest decent forage and feed crops to meet their needs were pleased with their net earnings, while those who purchased all or most of their feedstuffs were not.
Farmers weathering 2012 are learning plenty about everything from crop insurance to seed genetics as parched conditions reshape farm business across the country. Consider our 5-part approach to moving ahead after the toughest drought since the 1930s.