2012 drought was a record-breaker for crop loss, Crawford County farms come through OK

By Ted Pennekamp

Crawford County was part of record-breaking pay outs by the Federal Crop Insurance Program due to the drought conditions of 2012. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Wisconsin farmers were paid $372,295,195 for crop losses due to drought, heat and hot wind.

Crawford County’s top planted crops are:
Corn – 41,000 acres
Soybeans – 17,800 acres
Oats – 3,500 acres
Total – 63,920 acres

In 2012, the farms in Crawford County lost some of these key cash crops due to extreme weather. The total amount of Federal Crop Insurance claims money paid out to Crawford County farmers was $2,045,836 of the $17.3 billion in total crop losses nationwide. Of the crops that were lost in Crawford County, $1,989,289 can be blamed on drought, hot wind, and heat impacts.

Overall, out of 50 states, Wisconsin had the seventh highest percentage of crop loss caused by drought, heat and hot wind, with 94% – or $372,295,195 – of the state’s total crop insurance payouts.

The following were the total claims paid out in Crawford County for the various weather-related causes of loss on the crops:
Drought – $1,989,289
Other (Snow-Lightning-Etc.) – $17,581
Excess Moisture/Precip/Rain – $15,371
Total    $2,045,836

“Last year was an extreme example,” said Crawford County Conservationist Dave Troester. “Hay was hurting as well.” The year 2012 was one of the hottest, driest years on record in U.S. history. Some climatologists warn that extreme weather will become a trend.

Practices that help to maintain good soil health could help alleviate crop loss in the face of extreme weather conditions. Some of the top management practices include cover cropping, conservation tillage and improved irrigation scheduling.

Troester said that it has become a trend to have a continuous corn crop, which can “put all of your eggs in one basket.” He said that if other crops were planted, it may help. “Diversity could reduce the likelihood of a big loss,” he said.
Troester noted that farmers around Prairie du Chien may have been hit harder by the drought because of the sandier soil. The farmers whom he spoke to around Crawford County, however, said that they did OK last year.

Cover crops are crops grown with the specific purpose of building soil health and increasing biodiversity on farms focused on growing major commodity crops. Farmers who used cover crops in 2012 averaged higher yields than farmers who did not, according to one recent USDA survey.  The yield benefit from cover crops was most pronounced in the areas hardest hit by the drought, demonstrating the importance of cover crops to drought-proofing fields.

No-till farming is a soil moisture management method when farmers plant directly into the stubble from the previous year’s crops, rather than plowing up this residue. The protective stubble serves as mulch that retains soil moisture, suppresses weeds and increases a field’s capacity to grow high-yield crops. In 2010, corn farmers who used no-till were 30% less likely to file a crop insurance claim than conventional tilling corn farmers.

As far as irrigation scheduling is concerned, very few farmers in Crawford County use irrigation. Crawford County Agent Vance Haugen said that there are approximately 1,000 farmers in the county and only a handful use irrigation. Irrigation is hugely expensive.

Haugen also said that Crawford County farmers weathered the drought of 2012 fairly well, despite the crop loss and subsequent insurance pay out. He noted that there is approximately 100,000 acres of farmland in the county, and so an insurance pay out of approximately $2 million comes to about $20 per acre.

“Given the small amount of rain, we had a fantastic crop,” Haugen said.

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