Science
2:59 pm
Fri July 13, 2012

Drought worsens in Illinois, Wisconsin -- but there's a bright spot

The drought in southern Wisconsin has been officially declared severe, and all of Illinois is now officially in a drought … but there is one crop that seems to be doing fine despite the hot weather.

Officials at the National Drought Mitigation Center in Nebraska say Cook County is fully in a moderate drought for the first time this year. ... But that isn't the worst of it.

Far southern Illinois is designated as being in an exceptional drought, which is the most serious classification. 

"It is serious, particularly in the southern part of our state,” said Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. “Earlier I mentioned the power of prayer -- pray for rain. That's a good thing to do."

Quinn plans a trip to southern Illinois on Monday to discuss the state's plans for responding to dry conditions. 

State Climatologist Jim Angel says Illinois needs several good-sized rains to turn things around. 

A Quinn spokeswoman says the governor's office is working on a variety of plans to provide relief to farmers and Illinois communities.

The U.S. Drought Monitor also rates conditions in the southern third of Wisconsin, including Milwaukee and Madison, as severe drought. Other parts of Wisconsin are in a moderate drought or abnormally dry.

It could spell the end for some farmers who already are struggling - especially dairy farmers who are trying to recover from low milk prices in 2009, and who now face the prospect of buying expensive hay to feed cows this winter because their own crops are failing, several county extension agents said Thursday.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Monday declared a state of emergency in 42 counties.

The National Weather Service says a severe drought will likely result in crop or pasture losses. A number of communities in the region also have imposed water restrictions because of a lack of rain.

One farm crop in Ogle County is thriving despite this summer’s drought as wheat has turned to golden maturity across the county.

“If there’s a bright spot this year, it’s the wheat,” Dave Nelson, insurance specialist with 1st Farm Credit Services, Oregon, told oglecountynews.com. “The yield and other indicators have been above average.”

The reason is, Nelson said, that the rains came when the wheat needed it most — early this season. Wheat is planted in the fall and grows in the spring.

However, most of the area’s fields are planted to corn and soybeans and those crops desperately need rain.

“The corn especially needs it now,” Nelson said. “Soybeans are a little better off.”

As the crops become more stressed, farmers are contacting his office more frequently to check on their crop insurance.

“I’ve been getting a lot more calls in the last few days,” Nelson said.