The maple sap is running and winter wheat fields in the far southern reaches of Wisconsin may be greening up a bit, but farmers are marking spring as "tardy" this year.
As April ushered in the new growing season, the Wisconsin field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) officially sprang into action, compiling and releasing its first report on the progress of crop planting, growth and development, harvesting and current crop conditions.
According to the report released April 8, spring is being stalled by below-average temperatures.
In stark contrast to last year, when March made history as the warmest on record, this year presented a month with average temperatures ranging from five-nine degrees below normal.
The first week of April continued the trend with average highs for the week ending April 7 languished in the 40s statewide with minimal precipitation. There wee 0.3 days deemed suitable for fieldwork statewide.
In northern Wisconsin, where nighttime temperatures dipped into the teens and 20s, the land is still covered with snow a foot or more deep.
In Chippewa County, the remaining snow measures nine-ten inches over frozen ground. "Temperatures are still much below normal," the local reporter said in the document created with input from farm reporters and county ag agents across the state.
On steep north slopes in Pepin County, the snow was still 16-20 inches deep.
In Oneida County, snowbanks measured between 1-2 feet tall and ice on the cranberry beds was between two inches and a foot deep, while the snow was 18 inches deep on the fields in Vilas County. "We’re expecting another 2-6 inches more this weekend. There’s no end to winter in sight," that reporter observed.
To the south, warm and sunny days had melted a great deal of the snow cover, but reporters said the ground was still frozen in most areas. While snowcover remained at 25-50 percent in St. Croix County, it was down to 20 percent in Waupaca County and Waushara County, where dandelions were starting to grow.
The fields in Washington, Kenosha and Door counties were mostly bare and frost was out in many places in the open. The maple sap was flowing in Door County with sugar content running above normal.
In Grant County, almost all the snow is gone, as well. "I saw a stripped gopher today, so spring has arrived," the reporter declared.
Although the report mentioned melting water ponding in some fields, the slow melt and dry subsoil conditions have minimize flooding.
Across the reporting stations, average temperatures last week were marked from one-seven degrees below normal.
Average high temperatures ranged from 40-48 degrees, with Milwaukee and Madison topping out at 61 degrees and Eau Claire at 47. Average low temperatures range from 22-29 degrees, with Eau Claire plummeting to 12 and La Crosse to 18.
The weather suited many of the state’s maple syrup producers, with reports of sap ranging from slow to excellent. In Barron County, where there is snowcover and frost in the ground, the sap run was described as excellent.
It’s also shaping up as a "very good" maple syrup season in Langlade County, where 70 percent of the land is still covered with snow up to a foot deep. In Richland County, the sap flow was labeled "good".
In Sawyer County, where the soil and air temperatures remain "still too cold", the maple sap was just starting to run with preliminary reports coming in poor to average.
In Marathon County, 3-6 inches of snow remained on the ground as temperatures remained cold at night and below 46 degrees during the day. Warmer days are needed for robust production of sap, the reporter noted.
For the week ending April 7 at 7 a.m., precipitation totals ranged from 0.05 inches in Milwaukee to 0.25 inches in Eau Claire.
At week’s end, the state’s average topsoil moisture measured 2 percent very short, 13 percent short, 70 percent adequate and 15 percent surplus. Average subsoil moisture measured 9 percent very short, 32 percent short, 53 percent adequate and 6 percent surplus.
In Green County, where subsoil moisture levels are still "extremely dry", the reporter said many livestock farmers are running out of feeding bedding as a result of the 2012 drought.
In contrast to last year when there were five days suitable for fieldwork by April 7 and farmers had finished 18 percent of their spring tillage, tillage had yet to begin this year.
The spring tillage level was also zero in 2011, 2008, 2007 and 2006, the report noted, although 1 percent had been finished in 2009 and 17 percent in 2010.
In some areas where conditions allowed, manure spreading had begun. In Marathon County, some farmers were plowing snow on their fields to clear a path so they could haul manure. Road weight limits had been posted.
Alfalfa remained dormant last week, and reporters said it was too early to tell how much winterkill had occurred. Some reporters commented that ice sheets under snow cover were expected to contribute to winter damage.
In far southern Wisconsin, winter wheat was just beginning to green up. As with alfalfa, reporters said it was still too early to judge the extent to freeze damage. "No idea yet on alfalfa or winter wheat," the reporter said. "It’s cold and wet and rainy."
The weekly "Wisconsin Crop Progress Report" 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. It is compiled at the Wisconsin field office in Madison by state statistician Greg Bussler.