Wisconsin’s dry, hot weather elevated the southern third of the state to a severe drought. A record heat wave in the first week of July compounded the dry soil caused by less than an inch of rain in June.
Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency for 42 counties, including all of southeastern Wisconsin, which allows farmers to get expedited permits to source irrigation water from lakes and streams.
“The lack of rainfall since May in the southern half of the state has hit hard in a crucial part of the growing season,” Walker said.
He also encouraged farmers to report crop conditions to the U.S. Farm Service Agency, which would pave the way for a federal disaster declaration and financial assistance.
“These farm families are suffering under the stress and worry, but this is also a matter of statewide importance,” Walker said. “Agriculture adds more than $59 billion to our economic output every year, and accounts for 354,000 jobs – one in every 10 Wisconsinites depend on agriculture for employment. It’s a vital sector of our economy that we need to protect.”
The U.S. Drought Monitor, which provides weekly updates, categorizes soil conditions into five levels, from abnormally dry to exceptional drought. Most of the Midwest was at least abnormally dry, and southern Wisconsin was at level three, severe drought.
Rain after a drought like this won’t likely save farmers’ crops, particularly corn, said Dave Hansen, program supervisor at the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
“Right now, our normal amount of rain that we would have got at least for June … would have been about five inches,” Hansen said. “If you get a storm that drops five inches of rain, if it comes too fast it’ll all wash away.”
In addition, water table levels are dropping, which could cause rural homeowners’ wells to fail.
Residents cranked up the air conditioning during the heat wave over the 4th of July week, but peak demand didn’t beat the July 2006 record, said Brian Manthey, a spokesman for Wisconsin Energy Corp.
“It was the most that we had seen for the year,” he said. “(But) because it was a holiday week and a number of businesses had curtailed their hours, we didn’t hit an all time (high) for peak demand for power that week.”