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Alfalfa crop damaged in Manitowoc County

Alfalfa crop and weeds in Manitowoc County, May 16, 2017 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

MANITOWOC COUNTY, Wis. (WLUK) -- The spring season is underway in many parts of Northeast Wisconsin, but some Lakeshore dairy farmers are dealing with an outlook of a different kind.

In Manitowoc County, much of the alfalfa crop used to make hay is either dead, or dying, and producers are scrambling to find ways to feed their cows.

With the single turn of the shovel, Tyler Wagner could clearly see what was left of his alfalfa crop.

"This plant, it's pretty much disintegrated," said Wagner, who owns Twin Elm Farm.

Wagner grows corn, wheat, and alfalfa on his 900-acre family farm near Valders.

"The mild winter was nice for in the barn, but for the field, they kind of took the bad end of that," he said.

Wagner says a relatively mild winter killed off about three quarters of his alfalfa crop.

"We prefer to have a good 5-6 inches of snow cover on the crops most of the winter, because the frost will wreak havoc if it starts pushing up on the roots, for any of the winter crops, that make it through the winter," he said.

"It's a very difficult year. I would classify it as brutal. In fact we've probably lost 50-60 percent or more of our alfalfa acreage here in Manitowoc County," said Scott Gunderson, Manitowoc County Agricultural Agent.

Gunderson says farmers typically plant alfalfa every three to four years. This season, farmers may have to re-plant, replace, or buy.

"The price is going up for hay. In the last two weeks, it's gone up maybe $12 a ton of dry hay equivalent. Dry baled hay. And that though is probably not the end. I think we'll see additional increases," he said.

And when it comes to Wagner's field, he says he'll try to salvage what he can. He'll let the alfalfa grow at least another 10 days before harvesting it and replacing it with something else.

"Turn around and put corn back on it, so at least we got some extra forage for the cows," said Wagner.

Wagner says he is already about three weeks behind schedule, and recent rains mean his tractors aren't going anywhere.

"It doesn't give us much time to get the corn in the ground, considering spring is pretty late already," he said.

Things appear to be looking up for corn planting.

The USDA says 48 percent of the state's corn crop has now been planted. A week ago it was only 15 percent.

Even though the crop is almost half in the ground, officials say it's still 25 percent behind the average for this time of year.

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