MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin's dairy farmers are poised for a strong 2013 because milk prices are expected to rise and feed prices are likely to drop, a panel of agriculture experts predicted Wednesday. Crop farmers, on the other hand, face a key unknown — whether they'll get enough rainfall to compensate for last year's prolonged parched conditions.
Wisconsin produced a record 27.2 billion pounds of milk last year, remaining the nation's second-leading producer behind California. However, the 4 percent increase didn't necessarily translate to more money for Wisconsin's dairy farmers because it was offset by lower milk prices and higher feed costs.
Worldwide demand suggests that milk prices are likely to rise, while the price of feed is expected to stabilize, said Mark Stephenson, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Stephenson was a featured speaker at the annual Wisconsin Agricultural Economic Outlook Forum, which was held Wednesday in Madison. The event typically features about half a dozen agriculture professors who forecast the outlook for key Wisconsin products.
Most speakers said they were most concerned about lingering effects from last year's dry weather. The drought was severe enough that most fruit and vegetable crops were hit hard, and the crops that fared well were largely those that could tap into water reserves deep in the soil.
This year those water reserves are partially depleted, and it would take about 12 inches of rain statewide to replenish them, according to a Status of Wisconsin Agriculture 2013 report produced by UW-Madison.
Weather patterns have been too uncertain in recent years to predict rainfall with any certainty, so the best crop farmers can do is hope for enough rain to compensate for last year, said Brenda Boetel, an agricultural economist at UW-River Falls.
She also cautioned that consumers might pay extra for beef in the grocery store this year. Many dairy and beef farmers culled their herds last year because the drought sent feed costs soaring, and the U.S. supply was further limited because the demand for beef has increased in developing countries.
"Beef that cost $5 per pound last year might cost 10 to 20 cents more this year," she said.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.