Floods Wreck Havoc in Wisconsin

Crops, farms, roads, damaged or destroyed across southern half of state.

Published on: Jul 29, 2008

Heavy rains caused flooding in June that damaged farm buildings and homes, destroyed crops, caused severe erosion, killed livestock and washed out dozens of roads and bridges throughout much of the southern half of Wisconsin.

"The timing of the storms couldn't have been worse," says Paul Dietmann, director of the farm and rural services bureau at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. "The crops were short due to cool weather conditions, the flooding came early in the growing season and there was aleardy a lot of moisture in the soil."

Challenging year

Grant County Extension Agricultural Agent Ted Bay agrees.

"It's been one of the most difficult growing seasons I've ever seen," Bay says. "We had wet conditions in April and May which delayed planting, cool weather which slowed crop development on top of flooding in June."

As a result, nearly every farm in Grant County has some crops that couldn't be planted, crops that won't grow due to excessive moisture or fields that will be impossible to harvest, Bay says.

"We estimate crop losses at 10%," he says. "When you factor in the lost nitrogen, we're looking at yield losses in the 12% to 15% range across the board in Grant County. Even on fields with slopes, farmers here have springs coming out of their fields in places where they never expected it."

Denise Brusveen, Sauk County Extension agriculture agent, says crop losses in her county are substantial. She estimates that farmers in Sauk County suffered a 20% yield loss overall.

"It's hard to know for sure until we get the crops harvested."

Brusveen says 15 inches of rain fell in Sauk County between June 5 and June 13.

"Some fields in Spring Green are still under water because there is no where for it to go," she says. "The water tables are so high – it's just completely saturated. It destroyed a lot of potatoes and vegetables and there's nothing they can do. There are a lot of homes still under water and it's July. It's just not a good situation."

Brusveen figures 95% of the county roads in Sauk County were damaged by flooding.

"We had 20 feet of water on some fields near the Baraboo River," she adds. "It was just amazing. I talked to one farmer who said his hayfield survived the flood, but the road to the field was washed out .We had a lot of roads, bridges and culverts washed out. There were still some roads still closed in early July and of course County A, the road that was washed out by Lake Delton, will be closed for a long time."

Huge losses

Sauk County farmer Gene Larson, 53, and his son Matt, 34, raise 3,150 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and grass hay on their farm near Baraboo. They had 998 acres of corn and 180 acres of soybeans completely wiped out by the flood. More than 500 acres of crops were still under water more than a month later.

"I never thought I'd see anything like it," Larson says. "1993 was horrendous and this year was worse."

Gene said several other fields suffered yield losses ranging from 10% to 30%. Fortunately, the Larsons have crop insurance.

"We expect to get a pretty good size payment," Gene says, but there's going to be a lot of fields that have 10% to 30% losses which aren't great enough for the insurance to kick in. We'll probably be getting a $500,000 crop insurance check, but I think our farm will have $500,000 in crop losses that aren't covered.

"The only thing I'm really concerned about is having enough money to put in a crop next spring. It's going to be a struggle. We're going to have to put off replacing machinery or making any capital improvements."

On top of his crop losses, Gene is concerned he'll have to pay the difference on some of his contracts.

"When we signed up for crop insurance last spring the February corn price was $5.40. We had the option of using the fall price or the higher of the two," Gene explains. "The hitch is the fall price can only be $1.50 more than the February price, which is $6.90. The market has already been over $8. If the fall price is over over $6.90, I'll have to take money out of my pocket so I can buy corn to fill the contracts I've signed up for."

The Larsons currently have 220 steers on feed, but not for long.

"We'll sell them in October but I won't be able to replace them because I won't have any corn beyond my contracts."

While the flooding is bad, Gene acknowledges it could have been worse.

"The good part is our homes and buildings weren't damaged by the floods. A lot of people in town had to deal with water in their houses," he says. "The sad part about all this is with crop prices what they are this year this woulda, coulda, shoulda, been our best year farming ever and now we'll just be lucky to survive."

Fond du Lac County Extension Crops and Soils Agent Mike Rankin estimates farmers in his county will lose about 17% of their crops.

"That would include lost acres mostly because the crops got flooded and some acres that hadn't been planted and losses to crops that did survive," he explains. "In fact, I think the losses to the crops that did survive will be greater than the acres lost to the flood. When you lose a lot of nitrogen, you get uneven fields and yellow corn which affects yield."

Fond du Lac County farmer Ed Montsma says he lost about 100 acres of his 740 acres of corn and 35 acres of his 900 acres of soybeans when flooding hit his farm south of Fond du Lac.

While he figures he will have plenty of feed for his 45 Holstein cows, he's hoping he gets a good second and third cutting of hay to make up for his disappointing first cutting.

"What we cut early before the flooding was high quality but there wasn't much of it, and what we cut later had tonnage but not quality," he explains. "It's been a challenging growing season to say the least."