Milk and cheese consumers could see a slight price jump after a harsh winter took its toll on local crops.
Jerry Clark, crops and soil educator at the UW-Extension, said the longevity and severity of this year’s winter especially impacted alfalfa, a key feed ingredient for milk production.
“We could see a drop in overall milk production and prices could come up a bit based on that,” Clark said. “So much is based on speculation and supply and demand.”
The loss of alfalfa, other feed supplies and crops prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency to designate Chippewa County and 23 others in Wisconsin as primary natural disaster areas in early July.
“The winterkill came from winter hanging on as long as it did, plus the rain in January that formed ice,” Clark said.
Clark said although the declaration covers the entire county, only a certain percentage of the county reporting significant losses was required. He said there is winterkill every year; this year it was more widespread.
The designation stems from a late winter characterized by repeated thawing and refreezing, in addition to a late planting season.
“The wet weather conditions in late June before some farms could get their stuff planted delays the process of getting enough feed for next winter,” Clark said.
He said the designation normally covers the growing season, which would end in November.
“But it could be in effect until this spring,” he said.
By designating Chippewa County a primary disaster area, the Farm Service Agency is able to provide options to farmers to combat their losses.
These include low-interest loans—dependent on the severity of the loss— for farmers who need to borrow money for feed, in addition to the release of acres protected under the conservation reserve program on which enrolled farms can harvest crops in an emergency.
Last year, Chippewa County qualified for natural disaster assistance because it bordered one or more counties with significant losses to maple syrup production.
Clark said the designation is not uncommon, but dependent on the crop.
“A lot of farmers get indirectly affected,” he said.