Early spring boosts crops, concerns over frost
Superlatives danced as farm reporters and agriculture agents from around the state described the week’s doings in the first 2012 Wisconsin’s Crop Progress reports.
The official growing season kicked off on April 9 with a detailed report on the progress of crop planting, growth and development, harvesting and current crop conditions.
“Amazing Jump Start”
In Waupaca County, the “amazing jump-start” to spring means crops are four weeks ahead of normal. Alfalfa and wheat broke dormancy in mid-April, while manure hauling and planting oats on lighter soils is going full tilt.
Apple trees are flowering 30 days ahead of normal in Chippewa County, and growers are planting small seeds and alfalfa on receptive fields.
In Marquette County, potatoes, peas and mint are going in, while the reporter from Ozaukee County labeled the wheat as “the best I have ever seen — 6 inches to 8 inches tall”.
In Dodge County, where the frost has been out of the ground for weeks, the alfalfa and winter wheat look “awesome”, the local reporter said, adding he has heard reports of corn acres planted in March.
Early planted corn, mostly to test planters, was also reported in Green County.
The “record early spring” means alfalfa is already nearly a foot tall in Waukesha County and winter wheat grew 4 inches in the last three weeks.
“We had a week of 80s in February,” the reporter in Waukesha marveled. “The apple trees are starting to bloom, but the very dry spring so far means many ponds and small rivers are low or just about dried up.”
Across the state, reporters told of alfalfa and winter wheat coming through the winter in very good condition despite the lack of snow cover, with many commenting that established fields were getting tall.
They are, however, concerned about frost.
Temperatures hurt sap production
On the down side, the “extreme unseasonably warm temperatures” did not allow the flow of maple sap in Polk County, turning the flow into a dribble that was down nearly 75 percent from the historical average and shrinking the season that is usually 25 to 30 days to less than 10 days.
In Sauk County, 2012 will go down as the shortest maple syrup season in memory. “We ended up with only four days of actual sap running, which is about a quarter crop,” the reporter shared.
The earliness of the season took producers by surprise, the report noted, and nighttime temperatures above freezing kept the sap from flowing.
Production losses were marked at 50 percent and higher in Forest County, and yields were down 80 percent in Chippewa County.
In Manitowoc County, the maple syrup season came a month early. “If you had your taps out in early February, you had a good year,” the reporter noted.
As unusually warm March temperatures prompted apples, cherries and other fruit crops to bud extremely early, growers across the state were taking steps to prevent frost damage to the vulnerable buds and blossoms.
However, fruit trees in Washington and Rock counties have already reportedly been damaged by frost.
Fields planted early
The report observed that oat planting started “quite early” this year, noting accounts of fields planted in mid-March.
Statewide, 26 percent of the state oat crop had been planted by week’s end, compared to 1 percent last year and the five-year average of 8 percent.
In Green County, a reporting farmer has completed his fertilizer and manure applications, and is almost done with the oats and seeding he started on March 15.
Most of his oats and alfalfa went in during the week of March 26, he relayed, and most is already greening up. In St. Croix County, a field of oats planted on March 17 now measures 3 inches tall.
According to the report, the trend of this unusually mild winter continued with temperatures remaining above average for the week ending Easter Sunday.
For February, average temperatures ranged from 6 to 9 degrees above normal, while March average temperatures ranged from 14 to 16 degrees above normal.
Growers are waiting to begin spring tillage in Manitowoc County, while the only tillage being done in Sauk County is with horses. The ground is reportedly very cold in Ozaukee County, although alfalfa measures over 6 inches high.
Farmers have taken advantage of the warm spring to get an early start on tillage and planting, with the first week in April contributing another 5.1 days suitable for fieldwork.
Statewide, spring tillage was 19 percent complete by April 8, compared to a mere 1 percent last year and the five-year average of 4 percent.
However, many producers are concerned about the possibility of April frosts.
In Oneida County, growers had flooded their cranberry beds to prevent them from coming out of hibernation too early. Then “we drained all the water, dried out the beds, and completed reassembly of our sprinkler irrigation system last week,” the local reporter said.
Currently, all the cranberry varieties are in the vulnerable bud break or cabbage-head stage of growth.
“We had our first frost protection session on Monday (April 9) this year,” he said, adding he anticipates having to protect the vines from frost earlier and more often than normal.
Dry conditions in some areas
The lack of snow cover this winter is contributing to dry conditions in some areas. A current moisture map shows 30 percent of the state with either short or very short moisture conditions.
Over the week, precipitation totals ranged from zero in Milwaukee to 1.2 inches in Eau Claire, with Vernon County reporting several days of rain and cooler temperatures that have slowed pasture growth.
For the week, average temperatures came in 3 to 10 degrees above normal. Average high temperatures ranged from 50 to 63 degrees, with La Crosse hitting 70 degrees and Eau Claire clocking 68 degrees.
Average low temperatures ranged from 34 to 38 degrees, as Eau Claire and Green Bay dipped to 27 degrees and Madison chilled to 26 degrees.
The “Wisconsin Crop Progress Report” is compiled weekly at the Wisconsin Field Office in Madison under the direction of Robert Battaglia.
It is a cooperative effort of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, and the National Weather Service.