Crop year described as frustrating by county Extension service agent
"2013 has been a very frustrating year" for growing crops in the area, according to Outagamie County Extension Service crops, soils, and horticulture agent Kevin Jarek.
He spoke at the semi-annual farm management update for agricultural sector lenders and other professionals.
The frustration has persisted throughout the growing season and has greatly affected the yield and quality of the area's major crops such as alfalfa, corn, and soybeans, Jarek pointed out.
The physical appearance of the crops was misleading at times but not with fields of corn that are already looking like they should in late October, he commented.
Early in what was also a delayed growing season, winterkill had struck a significant portion of the alfalfa crop, Jarek noted.
A cool and wet early part of the growing season gradually turned into a dry period in the past couple of months, as indicated by the Sept. 1 crops condition.
That report indicated that 75 percent of Wisconsin's agricultural area is short of moisture and much of the southwest half of the state is back in drought, he stated.
With the loss of alfalfa, some growers replanted or interseeded with mixed results, Jarek reported. In some other cases, farmers harvested what could fairly be described as "dandelionage," he remarked.
Farmers who attempted to establish alfalfa with an August seeding haven't fared too well either because a lack of moisture interfered with germination, Jarek pointed out. He noted that it now too late in the season to be seeding alfalfa.
Of the alfalfa that survived and was harvested, some of the first cutting suffered damage because it was rained on before it was taken off the fields, Jarek observed.
Despite its green color, much of the second cutting of alfalfa had a surprising low Relative Feed Value (RFV) of only about 110, he added. "We saw this in the samples that were tested at our county fair."
As a result of the 2012 drought, Wisconsin and the nation entered the 2013 cropping year with the lowest reserve stocks of hay in more than 60 years, Jarek indicated.
Not surprisingly, this pushed the per ton dry hay prices to record high levels of about $2 per point of RFV - a doubling of the ordinary ratio - and an average of $230 per ton in Wisconsin so far this year, he reported.
Despite the cropping travails with alfalfa this year, per ton prices have recently fallen back to multiples of one and one quarter to one and one half of the RFV, Jarek noted.
The combination of alfalfa quality, prices, and stocks does not bode well for those who need to buy supplies, he observed.
Alfalfa prices also serve as a starting point for the purchase of any grain forages, Jarek stated. He said an appropriate price for those forages is at about 50 percent of the current alfalfa price.
The area's corn crop is suffering in at least two ways - lots of variability of growth and maturity in many fields and in pre-mature drydown caused by the lack of rainfall, Jarek reported.
A more widespread concern is the actual number of corn acres, as indicated by the private sector's doubts about the size of the national crop being forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the documentation by the Farm Service Agency about a large number of unplanted acres, he explained.
In addition to the in-field variability, which will provide challenges on deciding on a proper date for harvesting as corn silage, much of the standing corn has been affected by a nutrient deficiency due to the drought in recent weeks, Jarek pointed out.
He cited the Sept. 1 crop condition report, which rated 25 percent of the state's corn crop as being poor with 45 percent scored as good or excellent.
As of early September, the portion of Wisconsin's corn crop that had reached a dent stage was at only 50 percent of the five-year average, Jarek reported. That means a very late killing freeze will be needed to allow a major portion of the corn crop to mature, he observed.
Despite the uncertainty about corn crop acres and the relatively late maturity of the crop, the price for corn grain has dropped by about $1.50 per bushel compared to a year ago, Jarek noted.
He said this plays into what the fair prices would be for the sale of corn harvested for silage.
Citing the guidelines provided by Extension Service corn agronomist Joe Lauer (http://corn.agronomy.wisc.edu), Jarek noted that the basic price for silage with about seven bushels of grain per ton would range from $28 to $51 per wet ton at corn grain prices of $4 and $7 per bushel, respectively.
For Outagamie and nearby counties, he said an appropriate price for good quality corn silage would be between $35 and $45 per wet ton.
A somewhat different set of questions is in play with the outcome of the year's soybean crop, Jarek observed.
He listed the uncertainty of whether enough growing time remains for many of the fields to produce mature beans, the limitations on taking immature fields as a forage feed, and the differences in the outlook for soybeans at the outskirts of the maturity ranges grown in the area.
With the .6-.8 maturity soybeans that grew very little forage and do not promise an acceptable grain yield, Jarek said the best choice might be to turn the crop into green manure rather than to go to the time, trouble, and cost of harvesting the crop for a small amount of forage. For any stand, particularly in the late maturity spectrum of up to a 2.3 rating, be aware of the legal prohibition on harvesting the crop for forage if any of the commonly used insecticides or herbicides were applied, he advised.
For specific information on that point, check the www.coolbean.info website, Jarek suggested.
He also noted that white mold has struck many soybean fields but that it is too late to apply an fungicide to combat it.
As farmers try to recover from the cropping challenges of this year, Jarek reminds them to double check on the planting and harvesting date deadlines that accompany crop insurance coverage.