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Feeling the heat: Abnormal June warmth the latest temperature swing to impact agriculture

Wisconsin farmers are used to bearing the brunt of everything Mother Nature has to give.

In terms of temperature, this year farmers are seeing it all.

Four months ago, a polar vortex brought a long stretch of artic air to the region. Just last month, another blast of cold brought frost damage in areas of the state.

Now, with June underway, the state has been perched on the top of the temperature rollercoaster, sweltering under a heat wave that is finally showing some signs of lessening, even if temps look to remain on the warm side.

As June heat lingers, wide-ranging effects are bound to be felt in the world of agriculture. And with July, typically the hottest month in the state, and August still ahead, crops, livestock and farmers will likely find more heat in store.

Crops

Some farmers were replanting in areas damaged by the May frost as temperatures soared at the beginning of June.

The late frost was rare but within the realm of possibility, said Josh Kamps, agriculture educator for UW-Extension Lafayette County. Farmers had to weigh whether yield penalties of planting into June were worth it in their fields, but as long as soil conditions were good, the act of re-planting would likely go well too.

Dry conditions that largely prevailed over this year’s growing season continue to persist, but now the cool temperatures that accompanied the relatively dry spring have vanished.

Getting some rain in the coming days will be important as the crop develops, Kamps said, noting that he didn’t want to speculate what would happen if moisture continued to be sparse later this summer.

According to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor map, released June 10 and based on June 8 conditions, drought has continued to worsen in the state. Only a small portion of the state isn’t at least abnormally dry. Much of the southern half of the state is in moderate drought, while the far southeastern part of the state is in severe.

But roughly two-thirds of topsoil and subsoil moisture in the state is still adequate, as of the week ending June 6, according to the June 7 Wisconsin Crop Progress and Condition report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The soil moisture levels in the June 7 report aren’t vastly different than what was reported a month ago in the May 10 report, but back then, cooler weather was helping keep moisture from evaporating, Jerry Clark, UW-Extension Chippewa County agriculture educator, said in May.

The same can’t be said now, as the extreme heat may lead to additional evaporation and transpiration, Kamps said.

When soil moisture is lacking, it’s important for farmers to look at how they can best conserve the moisture they have, Kamps said.

But many of the decisions capable of affecting soil moisture, like amount of tillage and cover crops, had to have been made earlier. That also goes for irrigation systems: beneficial in a drought for those who have them but not an option for those who aren’t already set up.

Kamps also advised farmers to stay up-to-date with their pest management strategies, watching for weeds, disease and earlier insect pressure. As the temperature changes, pest management strategies need to change too, he said.

Livestock

Extreme temperatures can cause stress to livestock, according to Amanda Young, dairy and livestock educator for UW-Extension Dodge County.

While livestock should be safe from extreme cold for a while, prolonged extreme heat is hitting animals on the farm early this year. The extended above-normal warmth, combined with cold May days not long before, may present some extra challenges for livestock.

When it’s as hot as it has been for as long as it has been, livestock are exposed to continuous heat 24 hours a day, as nighttime temperatures don’t cool down enough to provide livestock a break, Young said.

Plus, since periodic cool temperatures persisted through May, some livestock may have held onto their winter coats a bit longer, Young said. With not much time to adapt between lows in the 30s and highs in 90s, livestock may have been left trying to shed that extra coat quickly.

Heat stress in general can negatively impact production from livestock. Dairy cows can have lowered milk production, Young said, while livestock in general can experience lower and less efficient weight gain.

Livestock, particularly bigger livestock, dissipate heat better when standing, which requires them to use up more energy, Young said. And when livestock are hot, they’re likely eating less and not gaining back the energy they’re expending.

One of the clearest indications that an animal is suffering from heat stress is panting, which also causes the animal to lose moisture, Young said. Drooling can also occur, and the respiration rate for cattle may increase to roughly one breath per second.

Making sure that clean, fresh water to encourage livestock to drink as much as they can is important, Young said. Utilizing other cooling techniques like ensuring availability of shade no matter where the livestock are, introducing air flow and avoiding working with animals during the hottest part of the day can also help farmers take care of their animals on hot days.

Farmers should watch the forecast and can use gauges like the Temperature Humidity Index to help determine how much a specific combination of temperature and humidity may affect their animals, Young said.

UW-Extension has also published a series of information on heat stress. The series is focused on dairy, but aspects may transfer to livestock in general, Young said. Find more at dairy.extension.wisc.edu/article-program/heat-stress.

Workers

Farmers and farmworkers should also take care of themselves when exposed to heat for prolonged periods of time.

Those working outdoors are among the populations vulnerable to heat, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, which specifically says that dehydration and heat-related illnesses are more likely in outdoor workers.

Extreme heat tips from the Wisconsin DHS include using or seeking out air conditioning, staying hydrated, taking cool showers or baths, watching local weather forecasts, avoiding the hottest part of the day and checking in on neighbors.

The Wisconsin DHS also advises people to keep an eye out for symptoms of heat-related illnesses. People are advised to find ways to cool down or get help if they are dizzy, have a headache, get muscle cramps, experience weakness or have nausea or vomiting. Dial 911 for someone experiencing any of the following: hot, dry skin, confusion, unconsciousness, chest pains or shortness of breath.

For more information on protecting yourself from heat-related illnesses, go to www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/climate.


Sheep graze under late spring sunshine in rural Shawano County.


Writers-notebook
SAWDUST STORIES
Drinking deep from the summer of yesteryear

In 1928, on a June morning much like today, 12-year-old Doris Mitchell was roused from sleep in her Randall Park home by shafts of sunlight warming her face. The young girl sprang up, anxious to experience the dawning of another perfect summer day in Eau Claire. Though, in fact, the day had already begun without her.

On the corner of Broadway and Fourth, the Mitchell family home was an epicenter of activity: a bustling thoroughfare consisting of Doris’s father, mother, grandmother, siblings, and an endless stream of neighborhood friends, each of whom announced their presence by the slam of the screen door.

Meanwhile, outside, a parade of people began their daily duties. First came the iceman, who clucked his horse-drawn wagon to a halt before chipping off a 50-pound chunk sawed free from Half Moon Lake the previous winter.

Next came the milkman, who made his jangling jaunt from one house to another, retrieving the empty bottles from the porches and replacing them with the freshest milk this side of heaven.

Some days an electrician was called, or a plumber, though neither was half so exciting as the neighborhood rag-and-junkman, who creaked his busted wagon along the sun-dappled streets hollering “Rags, paper, iron! — living proof of the dictum of making one man’s trash another’s treasure.

Shortly after breakfast, Doris and a dozen or so children hustled from their homes, but how would they pass the time? Ball and jacks? Jump rope? Roller skates? Storytelling on the curb? Or perhaps a game of cards beneath the trees?

If they’d begged enough pins out of their mothers, Doris and her friends might cross the pins into an X formation, then place them on the trolley tracks and wait for the crushing wheels sure to transform them into a pair of miniature scissors. Though they never had to wait long; from dawn until midnight, the friendly ding of the trolley cars was heard every 15 minutes.

Before Dr. Mitchell headed off to his house calls, he might enlist Doris and her more industrious friends to clear his yard of dandelions. The going rate was a dime for a hundred plucked dandelions — who could resist such high pay?

Once all the dandelions had been cleared, and the other neighborhood games had lost their luster, Doris and her friends, equipped with matches and metal canteens, would spend their days in search of small-town adventures: trekking up State Street Hill toward the Indian mounds, or braving the railroad bridge near the town of Brunswick, or exploring the island in the Chippewa River.

Upon their return, they might celebrate with a trip to Adam’s Drug Store on the 500 block of Water Street (later a health store), where the soda fountain stretched on forever. For a nickel (just half the earnings of a day’s dandelion picking), Doris and the others could treat themselves to one of Mr. Adam’s famous ginger mint juleps. Before heading home, the children might pay a visit to Mr. Evans’ blacksmith shop just two blocks away (later Kerm’s Super Foods’ parking lot), where the man ran the forge like Hephaestus.

But Doris and the other children’s real education occurred while walking between the drug store and the blacksmith. No, not Mrs. Hoffman’s Hat Shop or Uecke’s Dairy, but Sandy Dean’s funeral parlor, which, despite its windows filled with ferns, could not hide the specter of death which remained just beyond the children’s periphery.

“The summer of 1928 would be the last time my Westside neighborhood gang would play together as a group in the homes and yards around Randall Park,” wrote Doris Arnold (as she was later known) in her 1987 book, “Remembering Eau Claire.”

Doris and the others had simply outgrown their childhood, and had no choice but to pass the torch to the neighborhood’s younger children. The card games would continue beneath the trees, and the jump ropes still swung high, but things were different now. Not only for Doris, but for the entire town.

“Motor cars and trucks reduced the number of horse-drawn buggies and wagons,” Doris wrote. “Buses would soon replace trolleys.”

And then one day refrigeration units replaced iceboxes, and the iceman vanished without a trace. How long, the children wondered, until the milkman, too, disappeared?

There was no stopping it, nor did anyone want to.

“We were caught in transition,” Doris explained, “and it felt good.”

Such idyllic scenes seemed pulled directly from Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine.” Not only do both books provide nostalgia-filled odes to the summer of 1928, but they’re both set in small Midwestern towns. More astonishing, they feature scenes that echo one another with eerie detail: from the fond farewell of the trolley cars, to the appearance of the rag-and-junkman, to the annual summer harvest of hand-plucked dandelions.

In Bradbury’s book, the title serves as a metaphor — dandelion wine is the narrator’s best crack at holding tight to a fast-fading summer. It is the 12-year-old’s attempt to savor every last gulp of his childhood before the bottle runs dry.

Doris Arnold’s “Remembering Eau Claire” performs much the same function, though in its own unique vintage. Throughout its 95, spiral-bound pages, Doris, who died in 2010, offers readers of future generations a sepia-toned version of Eau Claire that’s all the sweeter since we’ll never know that place again.

Walking Randall Park today, you will not see any children playing ball and jacks. What you will see is Doris’s childhood home standing stately on the corner. While the park’s statue of Adin Randall draws the most attention, Doris’s former home is its own monument: paying homage to the young girl who observed her world, then wrote it down, and in doing so, paved the way for one last journey to yesteryear.


Country-life-news
top story
Evers: Farmers to get another round of funding

Wisconsin farmers can expect to receive additional money as a result of the latest federal stimulus plan, according to Gov. Tony Evers.

During a call with ag media last week, Evers confirmed that there will “absolutely” be funds directed to farmers from the amount the state is receiving from the $1.9 trillion federal American Rescue Plan. Wisconsin is receiving $2.5 billion from that spending package.

Evers did not provide a specific timeline for any new payments to farmers but said that the priority has been to get funds out to small businesses first. Applications to receive some of the $420 million in funding for the Wisconsin Tomorrow Small Business Grant program closed June 7.

Evers indicated that a new round of funding for agricultural producers would likely bear some similarity to the Wisconsin Farm Support Program from last year, which directed $50 million to state farmers over two rounds. But Evers said that he didn’t think that everything was covered by the previous program and that additional input is still being gathered.

In other funding for agriculture, Evers said that he was glad to see the state Legislature’s budget committee providing funding for some of the priorities Evers listed in his budget proposal, which had included over $43 million for agriculture over the next two years. However, he also said that the committee could have and should have gone further.

The Republican-led Joint Finance Committee took up the budget for the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection on June 2. The budget committee has largely been building their own budget off of the current biennial budget after immediately eliminating many of the proposals in Evers’ budget last month.

But some aspects similar to Evers’ proposed budget can still be seen in what the committee did approve for DATCP two weeks ago.

A new Meat Processor Grant program, extra money for the Dairy Processor Grant program, four new state meat inspector positions, an ag export program, and additional funds for the Farmer Mental Health Program were among the provisions that made it through the budget committee.

The budget process will continue to play out. The budget committee has kept shaping the rest of their spending plan. The full Legislature will then have to vote on the budget before it goes to Evers, whose veto authority could force the budget to undergo additional reworking.

DATCP updates

DATCP Secretary-designee Randy Romanski provided additional updates on the recent work of the department.

Romanski, who has been serving as department head since November 2019 without official confirmation by the Senate, recently had his appointment approved by the state Senate Committee on Agriculture and Tourism. It is now up to the full Senate to make the determination as to when and if Romanski is confirmed to the post he took over after previous nominee, now State Sen. Brad Pfaff was rejected by the Senate.

Romanski said that after a public hearing, held June 4, DATCP will be looking at the feedback it has received on the state’s hemp emergency rule that dictates how the department regulates the hemp industry.

For 2021, Wisconsin’s hemp program continues to operate under the 2014 Farm Bill. But the state’s emergency rule, effective as of May 3, now also incorporates some provisions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final rule for the establishment of a domestic hemp production program. That final rule was published in March.

Because of the USDA rule, hemp producers in the state now have options for retesting and remediating their crop. Rules regarding negligent violations were also updated.

Interest in growing hemp appears to have dropped this year. Romanski said that’s likely due to a number of reasons, but some factors may include the uncertainty that comes with hemp being a new crop, market development for hemp products and higher corn and soybean prices that may have swayed farmers away from planting hemp.

Romanski also discussed the recent awards of Dairy Processor grants and Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin grants. DATCP is also waiving the surcharge for its Agricultural Chemical Cleanup Program Fund for the fourth year.


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