Alabama Farmers Return Favor With Hay For Parched Northwestern Wisconsin
LUCK, Wis. (AP) _ Alabama farmers helped by Midwestern hay donations during last year’s Southern drought returned the favor Monday when truckloads of hay arrived to help parched Wisconsin dairy farms.
″We really appreciate it,″ said Mark Johnson, 29, one of the dairy farmers receiving hay from Alabama. ″The main thing is it’s given us some hope. That’s going to go farther than the hay itself.″
A convoy of three flatbed trucks and two covered semi-trailer trucks loaded with hay paraded through downtown with a fire and police escort about noon, said Milo Olson, Polk County agricultural agent.
Two other truckloads were en route, bringing the total amount to about 200,000 pounds, he said.
Johnson and other farmers brought wagons and trucks to haul the hay home.
A long, hot and dry summer is expected to leave Polk County’s 740 dairy farmers short 3.5 million to 4 million bales of hay, with the average bale weighing 50 pounds, Olson said. The county is one of 10 in northern Wisconsin that Gov. Tommy Thompson has declared a disaster area. Farmers in those counties are hoping for federal help.
The drought, which some farmers have described as the worst in more than 50 years, hurt hay crops which are needed as winter feed for dairy herds. The season’s first and second crops were very poor, and while third crops may be better, they will not make up the loss, Olson said.
Up to 20 percent of the region’s farmers may be forced to quit as a result of the drought, Olson said. The counties are expected to need an estimated 7.5 million bales of hay before winter, said Sean Malone, assistant coordinator for the state’s emergency haylift.
The office has coordinated donations of about 40,000 bales of hay to the area so far and at least that much has been sent to stricken farms through private efforts, Malone said. Farmers in Iowa have offered to help and a group in Illinois has about 10,000 bales of hay for Wisconsin farmers but still needs a way to move it north, he said.
The plight of northwestern Wisconsin and neighboring parts of Minnesota has received less attention than Southern farmers’ problems did last year, but the situation is similar, farmers said.
″Everybody thinks of the South as normally being dry and they saw so many pictures last summer of dust blowing,″ said Peggy Osterbauer, who works with her husband on a 111-acre farm with about 47 cows in Dresser. ″The dust might not be flying here, but what was standing there wasn’t good.″
The dry summer produced short hay lacking the protein dairy cattle need, she said.
In Luck, 4 inches of precipitation, or about one-quarter the normal amount, fell between Jan. 1 and July 1, Olson said. Recent drizzles have helped to turn some fields green, but officials said Wisconsin’s growing season may end before much of a crop will be ready.
″We’re very thankful to the Alabama farmers and the people of Alabama,″ said Olson.
The Alabama haylift to Luck was the first of several shipments to Wisconsin farmers expected to continue through the fall. Alabama Gov. Guy Hunt has said rail shipments may also begin this fall.
Wisconsin officials said they hoped to get hay to the farmers needing it before winter.
″We don’t want to have to deal with four-foot snow drifts when they need it,″ said Milton Stellrecht, chairman of Burnett County’s hay committee.