The harvest season heated up as fall hit with a thud last week, bringing frosty weather, blustery winds, scattered rain and below normal temperatures.
"Now, as harvest begins, we’ll start finding out how bad the crop really is," the Juneau County reporter said in the Sept. 24 issue of the "Wisconsin Crop Progress Report".
Autumn officially began on Saturday, Sept. 22, finishing off a week that brought hard frosts to northern Wisconsin and patchy frost elsewhere. Overnight lows dropped into the 20s in some northern areas, the report said, as average temperatures were marked five to six degrees below normal.
Frost hit Chippewa County and Washburn County, where temperatures sank as low as 28 degrees on Tuesday.
There was also frost in Taylor County over the weekend, but it didn’t affect crops much. It did help to even out parts of fields that were still green, the reporter said in the document created with input from a state-wide network of farmers and county ag agents.
It was a wet, cold week for Florence County with temperatures well below normal. "We had two hard frosts with temps as low as the mid-20s, and three more mornings with light frost and temps in the low to mid-30s," the reporter shared, noting fall small grains in the area have finally taken off with the week’s worth of rains.
Hay-making continued in earnest, with state farmers pulling off 92 percent of fourth cutting by Sept. 23, far ahead of the five-year average of 54 percent.
Over a quarter of fifth cutting was also off the fields. In Kewaunee County, fifth crop got put on the back burner while farmers focused on corn silage, but there probably won’t be much taken off since growth was very poor due to lack of moisture, the reporter commented.
Yields on fifth cutting of alfalfa in Grant County were coming in better than expected, reportedly due to the cooler and slightly wetter weather.
Farmers were also ahead of the game on fall tillage, with seven percent completed by week’s end. The five-year average stands at two percent.
Machinery bustled through many fields pulling off high moisture corn before the grain became too dry, the report said, as soil moistures fell to 78 percent short to very short statewide, compared to 76 percent the previous week. The lack of soil moisture continued to hamper the emergence of fall seedings.
In Door County, about 25 percent of the winter wheat has been planted, while Grant County producers are planting winter wheat and oats for cover crop and forage crops next spring.
Rain is needed as existing hay stands prepare to overwinter. "We have only received enough rain to water the weeds," the reporter from Dane County observed.
Corn moisture levels were extremely low for this early in the season, the report said, rating 37 percent of Wisconsin’s corn in poor or very poor condition, compared to 36 percent last week.
In Dunn County, moisture levels for corn ranged from 19-25 percent. In Ozaukee County, dry conditions mean no fifth crop hay and corn and beans drying down fast with moistures running 28-32 percent.
Several reporters told of corn dropping ears and other stalk integrity problems. In some cases in Marathon County, as the harvesting equipment touches the plant, the grain falls to the ground before it moves through the combine.
Grant County reported recent winds are worsening the situation because corn stalk strength is weak due to the summer’s dry, hot weather.
In Rock County also, there is "no stalk strength and what ears we have are dropping on the ground," the reporter said, adding that "forage supplies are still tight and every corn acre that can be, will be baled!"
Statewide, 94 percent of the corn crop was denting, compared to the five-year average of 84 percent. The percentage of mature corn was also well above average with 63 percent mature, compared to the five-year average of 36 percent.
A chart tracking mature corn levels on Sept. 23 over the past 10 years shows 2012 towering above the rest, which included lows of nine percent in 2004, 14 percent in 2009, and 23 percent in 2008, as well as 54 percent in 2005 and 2007 and 56 percent in 2010.
Most farmers were wrapping up their corn silage harvest, with 84 percent completed over the 5.8 days suitable for fieldwork last week, compared to the five-year average of 52 percent.
In Kewaunee County, fields averaged in the neighborhood of 17-21 tons of corn silage per acre. "Some corn meant for silage dried down so fast it got away from farmers, so there will probably be a little more high moisture corn harvested this fall than anticipated," the reporter shared.
By Sunday morning, 12 percent of the state’s corn grain harvest was complete, compared to four percent the previous week and the five-year average of three percent. Yield reports varied from average to well below average due to the summer drought.
Pasture conditions continued to deteriorate across the state, with 66 percent now in poor or very poor shape, compared to 64 percent last week.
For the week, precipitation totals ranged from 0.16 inches in La Crosse to 0.74 inches in Milwaukee. It was zero again for Pierce County, which has not had any rain since September began.
The soybean harvest was progressing full-tilt, with 96 percent of leaves turned and 78 percent of leaves dropped. Overall, the state’s bean fields were rated 26 percent in poor or very poor condition, which was an improvement from the previous week’s mark of 27 percent.
Fourteen percent of the bean crop has been harvested, compared to two percent the week before, nothing last year, and the five-year average of one percent. Yields varied greatly, the report said, with moisture levels generally in the low teens.
Grant County was among those beginning to harvest beans, with moisture levels on the first fields measuring 11 percent moisture.
In Kenosha County, "soybeans are another disappointment", the reporter noted, while Ozaukee County reported its apple crop was about 15 percent of normal.
The weekly "Wisconsin Crop Progress Report" is a cooperative effort of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection and the National Weather Service.
It is produced at National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Wisconsin field office under the direction of Robert Battaglia.