Article by Leigh Presley, Agriculture Educator for Kenosha and Racine UW-Extension
On everyone’s lips this week is some variant of the word “flood”. There is a palpable sense of loss as you drive through the areas impacted by last week’s unprecedented rain event. Just as homeowners in low-lying areas and along waterways felt the brunt of the floods, farmers with land, buildings, and livestock in these areas suffered as well. Flooded farm fields, some still with standing water, are some of the most visible signs of the impacts of last week’s events.
As the waters recede, farmers are left to evaluate the extent of the damage. Crops completely submerged by water for prolonged periods are likely a complete loss. Even if flooding doesn’t kill a growing plant, excessive moisture can have a longer-term impact on crop quality and yield. Flooding depletes oxygen in the soil, which can cause root death. Rot and fungal diseases flourish in wet conditions and can negatively impact crop conditions. Flooding can also result in nutrient deficiencies in the soil, hampering plant growth. Just getting in the field to assess and address any of these issues is also made difficult by saturated soils. And when it finally comes to harvesting crops, mud and silt that has covered plant structures can make harvesting dustier than usual and harder on equipment.
Fortunately, farmers have options for managing financially through these devastating events. Many commodity crop producers have crop insurance that provides coverage for losses due to flooding. There are also crop insurance options for smaller scale, diversified, and specialty crop producers. These programs are supported in part by federal funds, require a partial financial contribution from producers, and are delivered locally by approved private-sector insurance providers. Like any insurance policy, farmers have to weigh the premium costs with the potential benefits, and some may choose not to participate.
Some farms that market products directly to consumers have adopted a completely different type of risk management tool through the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model of farming. A CSA helps farmers share the risks and rewards of farming with members who pre-purchase shares of food that are delivered throughout the year. The CSA model ensures that if a farm suffers a set-back during the growing season, the burden is shared by its members – conversely, if a good growing season yields an abundance of produce, members reap the benefits.
Resources for helping farmers assess damage, manage crops impacted by flooding, and plan for future flooding events can be found at the Kenosha County UW-Extension website, kenosha.uwex.edu. The Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection is also offering affected farmers assistance through confidential debt and cash-flow analysis and one-on-one counseling provided by the Wisconsin Farm Center, reachable by phone at 1-800-942-2474, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority may also offer assistance to farmers impacted by the disaster. In addition, all Kenosha County farms are reminded to report any flood damage to buildings or equipment to the Kenosha County Emergency Management Flood Hotline at 262-605-7924, leaving a message detailing the damage sustained.