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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Sunday, October 01, 2023
Dry desert scene

How a UW-Madison garden is managing Wisconsin’s deepening drought

The number of residents residing in drought-affected areas has risen by 5.4% in one week, impacting 4.2 million people across the state.

Wisconsin is experiencing a deepening drought as summer comes to an end. According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, 4.2 million Wisconsin residents now live in areas of drought, up 5.4% since last week. And as drought intensifies, so do the effects on crops and agriculture.

The drought conditions are currently affecting the southwest corner of Wisconsin and are expected to persist through the next three months. All of Dane County is experiencing drought, with over 95% of the population residing in areas classified as severe drought and the rest residing in areas classified as extreme drought.

“We have not been able to keep new plantings sufficiently watered,” explained Isaac Zaman, a horticulturalist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Allen Centennial Garden. “We have to be in there almost every other day with how behind we've been with the rainfall.”

Although rain in northern Wisconsin helped relieve some drought conditions, most of the state remained dry during the first full week of September, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Crop Progress & Condition report

These conditions have further worsened crop conditions, Zaman said.

“When it comes down to trees and shrubs, I've actually started planting things that can handle [less water],” Zaman added. “I'm most worried about [larger trees, hedges and shrubs] that help keep our city cool, because they are the ones that are really suffering a lot this year and not getting much attention.”

This lack of rainfall may cause an issue for some crops, but not those with weaker root systems that Zaman said are meticulously maintained by farmers.

“Corn [and other crops are] so closely managed by a lot of our farmers that it's not that much of a concern,” Zaman said. “Our farmers are going to be facing it with a lot of watering.”

As of 2022, Wisconsin had approximately 14.2 million acres of farmland managed by over 64,000 farms.

“We have a lot of resources, we have a lot of nutrients, we have a lot of water that's available to us,” Zaman explained. “I think Wisconsin is going to be more okay than other places with agriculture.”

Still, as climate change intensifies, droughts are expected to be more “frequent, longer and more severe.”

“The evidence is clear. Without a question, [climate change] is the cause,” Zaman said. “There's quite a bit of information out there about the amount of carbon we're seeing in our atmosphere and the direct correlation that there has been with all of the other effects like the drought this year, the dry winters, the extreme temperature changes. All of these things play together.”

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Jasper Bernstein

Jasper Bernstein is the Associate News Editor for The Daily Cardinal. Follow him on Twitter at @jasperberns.


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