Southern Wisconsin corn growers, shaken by the continuing severe drought, are facing the reality of a near-complete crop loss by scrambling for their insurance policies.
About 69 percent of the state's corn growers are insured, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. Farmers must take out annual policies by March 15, so it's too late now to buy coverage.
The insurance will allow farmers like Ken Luety to make it to next year's growing season, said the Clinton-area farmer, whose 3,000 acres of corn may yield less than 10 percent of the typical crop.
"It lets me sleep at night, it lets my banker sleep at night, it lets my family sleep at night, so it makes it a lot more comfortable," Luety said, pointing to crispy stalks of corn on his land.
The critical pollination process is taking place at farms across southern Wisconsin, but an ear of corn can't form without moisture during the process.
It hasn't rained on Luety's lands at Cabin Creek Farm in four weeks, and even that was just a half-inch, he said. His 1,200 acres of soybeans are a tougher crop, but even they need rain.
"I've been farming since I graduated high school in '75," Luety said. "I went through '76 and I went through '88 (two drought years). They were dry, but I don't think they were nearly this dry."
If he didn't have insurance to cover the loss, he would either be forced to close or dramatically change his operation, he said.
Farmers who do have coverage are already directing plenty of questions to their insurance agents, said Michelle Austin, director of insurance at Baraboo-based Badgerland Financial.
"We insure the crop and our producers for anything Mother Nature can throw at them, including this drought," she said. "Hopefully, if they have some good coverage, they can get back on their feet and cover their expenses they've had from this past year."
Austin recommended that farmers keep records of their fall harvest and, if they plan to use the crop for feed instead of the more-valuable grain, that they have their insurance adjuster appraise their crop.
"Under the circumstances we're in, it's probably best if they just take (the crop) to harvest," Austin said, "whether that be chopping for silage or taking it to grain to see if there is anything left and salvageable."
Reliance on the weather is nothing new for farmers, but it's been a frustrating year because there's nothing that can be done, Luety said.
"It's frustrating, it builds up," he said. "I had a friend ask if I was drinking. I said, 'I still drink my beer but I've actually started running in the mornings.' I run 3 miles a day -- that's my frustration additive, if you will."