Dozens of farmers in Douglas County are dealing with a brutal winter that caused their barns and sheds to collapse under the weight of snow and ice.

Steve Frericks, director of the Farm Service Agency in Douglas County, said that he took a drive around the county last week to assess the damage and saw "30, 40 or 50 buildings down."

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Mark and Cassandra Blowers lost the roof over their dairy barn.

When temperatures rose Saturday, March 9, melting the snow and ice, Cassandra said it felt like a rainforest on their farm on Abel Road northwest of Evansville - "only it was 30 degrees instead of 80."

The Blowers' daughter, Autym, was outside, right behind the dairy barn, when she heard the beams snapping at about 5 p.m.

Just as Autym took cover behind a round hay bale, the roof - 100 feet long by 30 feet wide - came crashing down under the weight of about five feet of snow.

"She was pretty scared," Cassandra said. "She's 18 years old, but she was still pretty scared."

The crossbeams collapsed just inches away from the 42 cows and 13 calves that were in the building. The Blowers had to cut through the beams so the cows could move.

"We were lucky," Cassandra said. "No animals were killed."

A state inspector visited the farm the next day and the Blowers have been busy following his recommendations, such as keeping the cows from getting wet.

The Blowers' insurance company determined that the barn is a complete loss. Demolition work began Monday.

Cassandra said her husband, Mark, has lived on the family farm nearly his entire life, 48 years, and they've never seen a winter quite like this one, with so much snow piling up so late in the season.

The dairy industry is going through challenging times as it is and the rough winter only compounds it, Cassandra said. She and Mark both serve on the Douglas County American Dairy Association Board.

Cassandra said the last few days have been stressful, knowing there won't be enough insurance payback to cover their losses.

"We're doing what we can to keep it going," she said.

Assistance available

There is help available for farmers experiencing damage from the storms.

The FSA provides a Livestock Indemnity Program that offers assistance for farmers who lost livestock because of a blizzard, as long as the number of animals that died are above the normal mortality rate. For more information, call the FSA at 320-763-3191.

Also, the Minnesota House unanimously approved legislation on Thursday, March 14, that makes disaster recovery loans available to farmers whose barns have recently collapsed under the weight of heavy snow, sleet or ice.

The legislation (S.F. 2225) authorizes the Minnesota Rural Finance Authority to issue Disaster Recovery Loans at zero percent interest to farmers whose properties sustained damage retroactively to Jan. 1.

"This string of collapsed buildings is causing significant hardships around the state, including right here in District 12B," said Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, who co-authored the House version of the bill.

"This issue needed to be addressed immediately because these farmers who have been impacted don't have the luxury of waiting around to see what happens with an insurance claim. I am pleased we took some urgency in getting this bill to the governor so we can help farmers rebuild from the damages they've suffered."

Farmers can use Disaster Recovery Loans for several purposes:

• To clean up, repair or replace farm structures and septic and water systems, as well as replace seed, other crop inputs, feed and livestock.

• To purchase watering systems, irrigation systems and other drought mitigation systems and practices when drought is the cause of the purchase.

• To restore farmland.

• To replace flocks, make building improvements or cover the loss of revenue when the replacement, improvements or loss of revenue is due to the confirmed presence of the highly pathogenic avian influenza in a commercial poultry or game flock located in Minnesota.

Gov. Tim Walz signed the bill into law Monday, March 18.

"Minnesota's farms are the bedrock of our economy and our communities," Walz said in a news release. "That's why I'm proud to sign this bill to allow farmers impacted by snow, sleet or ice to participate in the farm disaster recovery loan program. This relief is critical for the farmers who have been affected by extreme snow and blizzard conditions."