Weather extremes leave farmers little room for error

SAUK CITY (WKOW) — With its cooler temperatures and plentiful water, Wisconsin for decades has been considered home to the ideal climate for raising cows, but in the past decade warmer more unstable weather systems have put that climate at risk.

In the late September heat, Mystic Valley Dairy’s owner Mitch Bruenig has spent the past several days working to keep his cows cool.

“That’s our goal to make our cows really happy,” he said. “Cows do not like humidity. We don’t like humidity either.”

To help his herd of 600, Bruenig said keeps the cows as clean and comfortable as possible. He provides cool sand for them to rest on, keeps the barn fans circulating constantly and has his jets spray the cows with cool water at increasing intervals as the temperatures rise.

“Just being aware of the weather and the challenges it’s causing just makes you have to do really well in your farming practices,” he said.

Keeping his cows happy also means making sure they’re eating right. Bruenig said all the ingredients for his feed is grown on the farm as well, which brings along its own set of weather challenges.

“With the rain we’ve been having it just doesn’t get dry enough to harvest,” he said.

Thanks to a cold wet spring, his corn silage harvest is weeks behind schedule and with heavy rain soaking his fields at summer’s end, Bruenig said everyday its been a race against the clouds to cut and harvest his alfalfa.

“It’s just a struggle to have five days in a row that’s dry,” he said.

It hasn’t just been this year.

WKOW Meteorologist Bob Lindmeier said years of heavy rain are flooding fields and tightening growing seasons statewide.

“We’ve always had extreme rainfall events but they’re becoming more numerous as our atmosphere is warming,” he said.

If the unsettled weather pattern continues, he said droughts could be likely in a few years.

For farmers like Bruenig, there’s no easy fix. He said he simply has to work harder to cope with whatever weather comes his way.

That means using more water to cool his herd or rationing their feed differently based on what he’s able to dry and harvest.

“The cooling isn’t quite as effective when its humid,” he said.

Bruenig said the uncertain conditions have also led him to diversify the work he does on the farm. Alongside his dairy operation he said he’s begun selling genetic material to Chinese farms and other agricultural businesses.

“If we don’t do that we’re not going to leave our farm for the next generation,” he said.

Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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