Letter from Rep. Danou: Helpful resources and tips for farmers during droughtLast week, Governor Walker expanded the drought emergency declaration from 42 counties to all 72 counties in the State of Wisconsin.
By: Rep. Chris Danou , Pierce County Herald
Last week, Governor Walker expanded the drought emergency declaration from 42 counties to all 72 counties in the State of Wisconsin. The lack of rain and high temperatures is hurting families, farmers and especially our agricultural economy, but there are things we can do to cope with and lessen the negative effects of the drought.
According to Ready Wisconsin, a part of the Wisconsin Emergency Management, there are several things for farmers to consider when dealing with the drought. If farmers are interested in relocating their livestock to pastures with better conditions or leasing out their land for others to use, a farmer-to-farmer connection can be made and more information can be found at https://farmertofarmer.crowdmap.com/. Be sure to discuss all logistics with your veterinarian, attorney, and accountant for more detailed information about appropriate biosecurity and animal health practices associated with moving animals, as well as complete and fair lease agreements.
Farmers can also submit water diversion requests to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to withdraw water for emergency crop irrigation from the state's lakes and rivers.
One factor to keep in mind when determining if there is any surplus water to withdraw is the assessment of the benefits to all known users downstream because existing water flow is not deemed to be surplus until all downstream uses have been considered. Please remember that the water levels or flows required to protect the public rights in the waterway may not be the same as the flow needed for downstream users. For more information and to submit a request for water withdrawal please visit http://dnr.wi.gov/waterways/water_levels_crossings/irrigation.html.
State agriculture and natural resource officials are urging farmers to inspect fields for wide cracks before spreading manure in an effort to reduce the risk of manure entering drain tiles, and ultimately, ending up in lakes, streams and groundwater. They advise farmers to either avoid spreading manure on such areas or take additional actions to limit chances of contamination. One recommendation is to work the soil with tillage before applying manure because it can contaminate ground and surface water while losing its nutrient value as it moves below the crop root zone.
Livestock owners should also be aware that feeding some crops to animals following a drought can cause nitrate poisoning, especially in cows. Crops including corn, oats, sorghum, wheat, barley and millet can accumulate high levels of nitrate during severe droughts.
Normally, microbes in the rumen break nitrate down into nitrite, and nitrites are further broken down into ammonia, and then into amino acids and protein. When the nitrate level is too high, nitrates are still converted to nitrites, but digestion stops at that point. Unlike nitrates, nitrites can be deadly and they can decrease the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood and suffocate the animal. Nitrate toxicity symptoms include heavy, labored breathing and excessive salivation.
High-nitrate crops can safely be fed to livestock if high-nitrate feeds are blended with low-nitrate feeds, such as alfalfa and small grains. Also, supplements such as cotton seed, corn gluten or soybean hulls can be fed to the animals before turning them into drought-stressed pastures. You can also reduce the amount of nitrate in crops by 30-60% if they are stored in silos versus feeding the animal green-chop.
I hope this information has been helpful as we deal with this unfortunate drought. I believe that with access to information and resources, we can take proactive measures to limit some of the potential damage and negative impacts. For additional information, such as where to find animal feed, weekly crop reports, and crop insurance or where to report crop damage to the Farm Service Agency, please visit: http://readywisconsin.wi.gov/drought/. As always, please don’t hesitate to contact my office for further assistance.