Dozens of Wisconsin farmers share stories about lower yields and higher costs

MADISON — Nobody feels the effects of drought, above-normal heat and flooding quite like Wisconsin’s farmers. According to a new survey of nearly five dozen farmers statewide, such extreme weather events are hurting crop yields, livestock and the bottom line.

“Farmers are used to adapting and finding solutions, but it’s clear that climate change will put those skills to the test,” said Katy Walter, energy and climate specialist for Clean Wisconsin. “We’re seeing major challenges, ones that require more expensive measures like installing irrigation systems and building structures to protect livestock. These things can be a real burden, especially for small farmers.”

The report in brief, Seeds of Challenge: A survey of how extreme weather impacts Wisconsin’s agriculture, grew from 60 email responses along with 40 follow up phone conversations with Wisconsin farmers. Farmers provided numerous stories of how extreme weather events hampered production. Among the anecdotes:

  • The drought of 2012 killed trees that took a decade to establish, lowered milk production and led to increased feed costs.
  • 2013’s heatwave lowered vegetable yields and led to problems with cow reproductive cycles.
  • General changes in weather have made it more difficult to know when to plant, with late frosts killing bees and early frosts freezing fruit on the trees.

“You would have to be oblivious to the world around you to not recognize that extreme weather events are making challenges for farmers that are off the charts,” said Greg Kosmeder, owner of Copper Kettle Farm in Colgate. “I can say that I never thought I’d see this in my lifetime.”

The numbers from the last few years tell a similar story. In 2012, Wisconsin farmers spent $800 million more on items like feed, seed and pesticides over the prior year. Then in 2013, excessive moisture and rain resulted in $61.9 million in assistance payments from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Wisconsin farmers, $52 million more than the year before.

“We’ve seen our share of challenges in recent years, and unfortunately it may be a taste of what to expect in years to come,” said Jim Goodman, owner of the Northwood Organic Farm in Sauk County in the Wisconsin Driftless Area.