Three loads of big rocks, six loads of breaker rock and several loads of gravel were required to fix the Muenzenberger’s driveway and bridge approach to allow the  milk truck to come in. 
PHOTO SUBMITTED
Three loads of big rocks, six loads of breaker rock and several loads of gravel were required to fix the Muenzenberger’s driveway and bridge approach to allow the milk truck to come in. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    CASHTON, Wis. – Last July, Randy and Barb Muenzenberger spent days cleaning up their farm and fields, rebuilding driveways and fences. They never dreamed one year later they would be faced with the same tasks, this time much worse.
    Areas of LaCrosse, Vernon, Monroe and Juneau counties in southern Wisconsin received record rainfall totals in the overnight hours of Aug. 27-28, while the area was pelted with nearly eight solid hours of torrential downpours.
    According to the National Weather Service in LaCrosse, Wis., highest recorded totals were nearly 11 inches in the Monroe County village of Cashton, Wis. More rain fell during the day Aug. 28.
    “I’ve lived here all my life,” Randy Muenzenberger said. “I’ve never seen anything like this. It doesn’t even compare to last summer. The damage is worse than we saw in 1978. That happened in July, so the damaged corn was able to recover. This was too late in the season for that to happen.”
    The Muenzenbergers milk 50 head of registered Brown Swiss on their family’s Bo-Valley Farm located in the Bohemian Valley between Portland and Coon Valley, Wis.
    According to Muenzenberger, a spillway for a Natural Resources Conservation Service dam above their farm gave way, causing what he described as a wall of water to rush down the valley towards their farm that night.
    “We had over 11 inches of rain from 8 p.m. until it finally let up around 4 or 5 a.m.,” Muenzenberger said. “Then, we got another 1.5 inches the next day. We had over 13 inches of rain in less than 24 hours. The ground is beyond saturated, and it keeps raining this week.”
    Damages to the Muenzenberger farm include deep ditches and washouts, including some over 6 feet deep. Muenzenberger said over five acres of corn was completely flattened by the wall of water rushing down from the breached dam. Fields and pastures are littered with debris. Fences newly built last year were completely destroyed again.
    “There is about 20 acres of silage corn that even though it’s still standing I’m not sure we can harvest,” Muenzenberger said. “We haven’t gotten in yet to see what type of debris is there and what damage was done.”
    Muenzenberger estimated if they can harvest everything that remains standing, they will be about 15 loads short of what they need for silage for their herd for the year.
    “We’ve been short on silage and hay the last couple of years because of the weather, and we’ve had to be really conservative on how much we feed to make it stretch,” Muenzenberger said. “This year, our corn looked great. I thought we’d be able to feed more this year and maybe boost our production some.”
    Other crop damages included complete decimation of his hayfields, including four acres of new seeding that was done following last summer’s flood. In addition to the damage to the crops, the roadways and crossings to most fields were destroyed and need to be reconstructed before machinery can be moved in.
    The only bright spot the Muenzenbergers can find from last Monday night is that they had left the cows in the barn.
    “We’d been late milking Monday night, and it had started raining before we finished,” Muenzenberger said. “We decided to wait for it to let up before we let the cows out. It didn’t let up, so around 10 p.m., we just decided to leave them in. If they’d gone outside, they would have been down in the lane or in the pasture and would have been swept away.”
    Muenzenberger said as much damage as their farm suffered, people further down the valley had it worse, losing buildings and cattle.
    In Monroe County, west of Cashton, Wis., Becky Gretebeck and her husband, Tucker, witnessed the destruction of their agri-tourism business. The Gretebecks milk 50 grass-fed, organic dairy cows on a farm owned with Gretebeck’s parents, Lynn and Nancy Luckasson. While the barn and most of the crop land are located on the ridgetop, south of Portland, Wis., the Gretebecks had purchased 10 acres of land in the valley below the farm on which they have spent the last several years growing an agri-tourism business based on a pick-your-own pumpkin patch.
    “Dairy isn’t always lovely, in terms of economics,” Gretebeck said. “We’ve looked to agri-tourism to help the farm cash-flow during times of low milk prices.”
    The Gretebecks were in the process of beginning to host events for local businesses and holding farm tours. The focal point of their business was a 150-year-old tobacco shed, which they had restored and commissioned area artists to paint murals of original artwork on two years ago. In addition, there were four other buildings at the pumpkin patch that housed a variety of antique farm equipment, as well as other things needed for their business.
    During Monday night’s rainfall, a NCRS dam, located above the pumpkin patch, gave way, completely destroying and washing away everything in its path, including all five buildings, the equipment and the year’s pumpkins.
    “We lost way more than the pumpkin patch or the structures,” Gretebeck said. “We lost memories and history, things that cannot be replaced, even if we rebuild.”
    Gretebeck is uncertain of what the future will hold in terms of the agri-tourism portion of their farming enterprise and estimates losses to be well over $50,000.
    “In economic terms, this will be the difference in cash-flowing for the year,” Gretebeck said.
    To the northeast, Craig Steinhoff milks 75 head of dairy cows outside of the village of Melvina, Wis., on a farm he grew up on.
    Steinhoff is unsure of the extent of the damage to his crops, as not much was flattened outright.
    “I won’t know until I can go in and see how much debris is in there, what we can and can’t salvage,” Steinhoff said.
    Rain and water from the nearby Little Lacrosse River flooded Steinhoff’s freestall barn and parlor, causing him to be about five hours late milking on Tuesday morning until water receded and he was able to pump the remaining water out.
    “We didn’t have too many issues, as far as the cows,” Steinhoff said. “A couple flared up with mastitis, but overall, nothing too bad.”
    The damage that most concerns Steinhoff is the erosion of the banks and changes in the Little LaCrosse River. In recent years, Steinhoff has seen the river bed shift nearly 70 feet.
    “The creek is just gutted,” Steinhoff said. “There is no depth. Places where it used to just be 15-20 feet wide, it’s now over 100 feet wide. Places that used to be a couple feet deep are now just inches deep.”
    Steinhoff expressed concern at how the stream bank along his farmstead has eroded, coming within 40 or so feet of his upright manure storage tank and freestall barn.
    “I don’t know what to think,” Steinhoff said. “A few years ago, we had a couple of what they called hundred-year floods. They called last year’s flooding a 500-year flood. Those didn’t come close to this, what will they call this one?”
    Andy Kellogg milks 40 head of Jerseys near the Kickapoo River between Readstown, Wis., and Viola, Wis. Kellogg’s weather woes did not start until later in the day on Aug. 28.
    “We only got 1.6 inches of rain Monday night,” Kellogg said. “Tuesday afternoon we got about four inches, and that, combined with the water coming down the Kickapoo from the heavy rains further north flooded us.”
    By Wednesday morning, Kellogg’s tiestall barn was full of water and he was unable to get the cows milked that morning. The cows spent the flood in a pasture on higher ground. By 4 p.m., the water started to recede from the barn enough they could get cleaned up enough to get the cows in to milk.
    In total, the Kelloggs had to dump five milkings because a milk truck could not reach them. Their house flooded badly enough they had to turn the power off, which turned off their well service. The cows were without water for about 36 to 48 hours.
    “We lost one calf due to the flood, and we had to treat one cow for mastitis,” Kellogg said, noting he has had to treat another calf for pneumonia since the flood waters have receeded.
    Kellogg is uncertain what his feed and crop losses will end up being, as a great deal of his corn in the fields had water up over the ears. He utilizes ear corn and says that about five feet of corn in his bins was soaked, and you can smell the spoilage starting.
    “2008 was our last record crest for this area, at about 21 feet,” Kellogg said. “They’ve said this one was about five to seven feet higher.”