USDA declares 7 counties disaster areas because of June, July rains

A farm in Winnebago County has standing water, June 16, 2017. (WLUK/Alexa Santos)

CALUMET COUNTY -- Seven Northeast Wisconsin counties have been declared disaster areas because of crop losses resulting from early summer rains.

Calumet County was hit the hardest, and in particular its strawberry crop suffered because of rain and flooding that damaged the plants and kept the soil too saturated.

The heavy rain and storms this summer nearly washed away an entire strawberry crop at Polly's Pumpkin Patch in Chilton.

"It was really hard and hit the berries really hard, it really ruined the berries that were on the plants. We lost about 80 percent of our strawberries. We only picked for 10 days, and we usually pick for about 3.5 weeks," said owner Polly Roland.

It wasn't just strawberries that were hit hard.

Polly says it was her worst tomato season ever, and she lost nearly all her sweet corn, and she wasn't the only one to suffer losses.

On the southwest side of Chilton, Meuer Farms' strawberry fields were also walloped.

David Meuer is the owner of Meuer Farms, and they barely had a chance to pick at all.

"We opened one day for picking and the next day we got the storm. With the 80, 85 degree temperatures we had and such pounding rains of 3.5, 4 inches of rain several days in a row, it pretty much just caused the strawberries to rot and we lost over 60 percent of the berries in the field," said Meuer.

Meuer is also the president of the Wisconsin Berry Growers Association, and said some smaller operations lost nearly all of their berries.

As a result, the disaster declaration from the USDA covers Calumet and six surrounding counties: Brown, Fond du Lac, Manitowoc, Outagamie, Sheboygan and Winnebago.

It means farmers in those seven counties are eligible for financial help, including low-interest emergency loans, for any crop that was damaged or affected by heavy rains between June 14th and July 14th.

The financial assistance depends on the amount of production losses, though only losses of at least 30 percent are eligible.

“The June and July storms impacted Wisconsin farmers,” Gov. Scott Walker said in a news release. “With the (U.S. Department of Agriculture’s) disaster designation, those affected by flood damages are eligible to receive much-needed assistance.”

Brad Englebert is the Farm Loan Manager at the Manitowoc and Chilton County Farm Service Agency offices, and says he views the program as more of a public service than anything else.

"I like the program because it's low cost to the taxpayers and it does provide some economic stimulus to the local economy and it helps out farmers that are in need," said Englebert.

This emergency declaration is actually one of three to affect Northeast Wisconsin so far this year.

The first was declared in response to a severe winter kill affecting early-season crops, and the second was declared pertaining to severe storms and tornadoes in the Fox Valley on June 14th.

Thankfully, both at Polly's and Meuer Farms, this fall's weather has been more kind.

Steady pumpkin picking and corn maze business may soften the blow of a disappointing summer.

Farmers in the affected counties should contact their USDA Farm Service Agency offices for more information:

  • Brown County Farm Service Agency
    3071C Voyager Drive
    Green Bay, WI 54311-8303
    (920) 884-3910 ext. 2

  • Calumet County Farm Service Agency
    206 Court Street
    Chilton, WI 53014-1127
    (920) 849-3570 ext. 2

  • Fond du Lac County Farm Service Agency
    W6529 Forest Avenue
    Fond du Lac, WI 54937-9489
    (920) 923-3033 ext. 2

  • Manitowoc County Farm Service Agency
    4319 Expo Drive
    Manitowoc, WI 54220-1840
    (920) 683-5119 ext. 2

  • Outagamie County Farm Service Agency
    3369 W Brewster Street
    Appleton, WI 54914-1602
    (920) 733-1575 ext. 2

  • Sheboygan County Farm Service Agency
    650 Forest Avenue
    Sheboygan Falls, WI 53085-2518
    (920) 467-9917 ext. 2

  • Winnebago County Farm Service Agency
    625 E County Road Y
    Oshkosh, WI 54901-9731
    (920) 424-0329 ext. 2
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