corn drought
© Gannett Central WisconsinCentral Wiscconsin farmers say crops are 100 days behind because of drought.

Governor Jim Doyle has declared a state of emergency in 41 counties Wednesday because of drought conditions.

The declaration includes Portage, Wood and Marathon counties, and most of the state north of Adams County.

Portage and Wood counties are about 6 inches below normal for rainfall, said Jack Bourget, manager for Portage and Wood counties' Farm Service Agency office. The area is also about 100 growing days behind normal, mostly because of a lack of heat and humidity.

The latest crop progress report issued by the USDA found that more than half of the state's soil moisture is considered low.

The declaration allows the Department of Natural Resources to expedite farmers' requests for temporary irrigation permits to use stream or lake water to irrigate their crops, said Randy Romanski, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Barring an extention by the Legislature, temporary permits will be in effect until Sept. 11.

"It's a proactive way to help those farmers try and get some water on their crops before it's too late," Romanski said.

The declaration only affects irrigation. Should Doyle seek a federal state of emergency for certain counties or the entire state because of drought, he would have to issue a separate request, Romanski said.

"There are two distinct steps to the process," Romanski said. "If drought conditions are really bad, then a different request is made by the governor to the USDA secretary to request emergency declarations for drought conditions. That means that there has been a certain percentage of crop loss. I believe it's 30 percent."

According to a USDA's crop report issued Aug. 5, Wisconsin farmers are projected to harvest 384.7 million bushels of corn this fall, about 10 million bushels less than last year. Some of the drop is because farmers planted about 30,000 fewer acres of corn this year. The rest has been caused by a cooler than normal growing season so far, crop statistician Steve Stockdale said.

If Doyle were to request federal emergency declaration and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack agreed, farmers could take advantage of federal programs, such as the Supplemental Assistance Payments, which assists growers who have suffered losses because of price fluctuations or poor yields.

Romanski said there have been discussions with federal and state agencies about whether a disaster declaration should be sent to Vilsack, but no decision has been made.