RACINE COUNTY — The historic rain that hit the area July 11-12 is still being felt by area farmers; many of them will not know the totality of the damage until they harvest their crops later this summer and fall.
Al Wilks, co-owner of Wilks Brothers Farm in Yorkville, estimates the current damage is at 5 percent of the crops but he expects that number to rise.
“There’s some loss on every field,” Wilks said. “Another 15 percent of our crop is of questionable yield, because it was near the water and it’s short and the fertilizer washed way. There’s going to be quite a bit of loss.”
Wilks Brothers Farm operates several hundred acres of land in the Union Grove area and western Racine County, growing corn, soybeans and wheat.
While many farms have insurance that can cover some cost, Wilks said their insurance won’t kick into action until 25 percent of their crops are lost. Although the damage is close, he doesn’t think it will surpass that threshold.
“Some of it is just plain dead, the rest of it is immature so it needs time to grow and see what it does amount to, which I don’t think is much,” Wilks said. “We’re not going to be able to get to it until October.”
In more than 50 years of his farming experience, Wilks said he’s never experienced anything like the rain that hit the area this summer.
“The crop doesn’t even look good when you drive by,” Wilks said. “We don’t even want to look at our crops anymore. This is the way it is this year and we’re going to have to put up with it and hopefully we’ll survive.”
Insurance, programs can help
Depending on the type of crop, farmers might be able to replant and regain the lost income, said Leigh Presley, University of Wisconsin Extension agriculture educator for Racine and Kenosha counties.
“But in other cases (farmers have) lost the year's crop,” Presley said. “There are other ways for farmers to protect themselves. Insurance is definitely one way.”
Presley said most large farmers have insurance, but smaller farms that grow specialty crops like strawberries might be affected the most.
Tom Oasen, executive director for the Racine County Farm Service Agency, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be able to provide emergency assistance for livestock farmers, which can include specialty farms that have honey bees.
“With the flooding, if the honey bee producers had their hives near the creek, they probably got washed away,” Oasen said.
Farmers can also apply through the Environmental Livestock Assistance Program to receive financial assistance to recoup any losses and restock their farms.
“It’s not a full recovery, but it’s a pretty substantial amount to help them get back on their feet,” Oasen said. “Say their pastures are underwater, that (the damage) falls under an ELAP.”
The agency is documenting the reports as they receive them, Oasen said. He encourages farmers to keep a journal of the damage.
“Especially for these nontraditional farmers, there really isn’t that much insurance to offer,” Oasen said. “We do have a non-insurance assistance program. It covers the specialty crops, any type of vegetable to pumpkins.”
The agency also offers a Livestock Indemnity Program if any livestock died as a result of the heavy rain.
“This is an event, where they’ve been farming their whole lives here and they can’t remember a time when so much rain came at one time,” Oasen said. “We’re hoping we can all get through this together.”
Harvest will show impact
Dave Daniels, who operates a dairy farm in the Town of Brighton in western Kenosha County, said “it’s a waiting game” and many farmers won’t know the total loss until fall.
“All farms have little areas that accumulate water,” Daniels said. “We don’t know, because the crops are fairly tall, how many acres are going to be drowned out in those little potholes. We’re really not going to have a good idea what our losses are until we start harvesting.”
Daniels estimates that 10 to 15 percent of his crops were lost to the rain, but he knows it could have been worse.
“We don’t know what the quality of the crop will be at this point,” Daniels said. “Once you get out there and you start harvesting, then you’ll figure out what’s going on.”
Although Kathy Baumeister's barn flooded twice during the heavy rain, she considers herself fortunate.
"We're not even going to file for an (insurance) claim, we don't feel we sustained enough damage," Baumeister said.
Baumeister, a corn, soybean, wheat and cattle farmer in Lyons just west of Burlington, is like other farmers: She said she will know more about the extent of the damage to the farm when they harvest, which has her a little concerned. "When you get a lot of water, the nitrogen gets pushed down in the soil further and we don't know if that's going to be enough for the crops," Baumeister said.
But she added she believes the farm community can persevere through this time: "Farmers are resilient people and they do what needs to be done."