In 2013, Wisconsin farmers were challenged with extremes, few of which fell into the good category.
As felt by those involved with agriculture and officially quantified in the annual December “Wisconsin Crop Progress Report” review, the crop year began with an extremely wet and unusually cold spring. It was the fourth wettest April and the twelfth wettest May since record keeping began in 1895.
Machinery remained idled by snow and standing water, while multiple freezes wrecked havoc on overwintering crops. Although the extended cold contributed to record high maple syrup production, a mere 4 percent of spring tillage had been completed by , 32 percentage points below the five-year average and the lowest total for that date in 30 years.
Throughout June, as topsoil moistures floated between 35 and 44 percent surplus, farmers struggled to finish planting. In the final week of June, some sections of southern Wisconsin were inundated with up to 11 inches of rain that caused localized flooding and damaged crops.
Then the rain stopped. Topsoil moistures plunged throughout the twelfth driest July in the past 119 years, the report said, with 0.90 inches less rain statewide than in July of 2012.
The cold continued. Despite two short-lived heat waves, temperatures stayed below normal for most of July and August. In northern Wisconsin, light frost was reported for the week ending .
Precipitation for August was above normal across northeastern Wisconsin, but the rest of the state was well below normal and drought conditions developed across the west. Statewide, topsoil moistures were 79 percent short to very short on , compared to 71 percent short to very short on that date in 2012. The lack of heat and moisture kept crop development indications consistently behind normal, the report said.
Thankfully, September and early October brought above average temperatures and rains that helped with moisture shortages and propelled crops toward maturity. However, temperatures plummeted in the second half of October and the growing season ended.
Throughout November, rain and snow storms slowed fieldwork. By Nov. 25, fall tillage was 63 percent complete statewide, 9 percentage points behind the five-year average.
The report summarized that statewide temperatures from June to September were 0.1 degrees above normal in 2013, compared to 2 degrees above normal in 2012. April through August had below normal temperatures, with April averaging 6.4 degrees below normal. September had above normal temperatures, averaging 2 degrees above normal. The month with the greatest departure from normal was March, which averaged 6.6 degrees below normal.
For April through September, precipitation totals were above normal across Wisconsin. The statewide total of 23.85 inches was 6.12 inches above the total for 2012 and 1.34 inches above normal, the report said.
For the northern third of the state, total precipitation was marked 1.22 inches above normal for April through September, while the central third of the state was 0.86 inches below normal and the southern third of the state was 4.13 inches above normal.
Breaking it down, April through June had above normal precipitation, the report said, while July through September had below normal precipitation. Of the nine reporting districts, five had Aprils in the top five wettest on record, the report said, with the Southeast district breaking the previous record. Four districts had Mays in the top ten wettest on record and four had Julys in the top ten driest on record.
Because of wet and cold conditions in April, only 4 percent of the Wisconsin corn crop was planted on , a full 22 percentage points below the five-year average. Farmers worked around wet spots and planted between rain storms as planting sputtered on through the rest of May and June, forcing farmers to switch some fields from corn for grain to shorter season varieties or soybeans. The wet conditions also interfered with spraying.
On , corn reached 98 percent emerged, the report said, a full 20 days behind the five-year average. At that point, 63 percent of the crop was rated in good to excellent conditions.
It went downhill from there. Due to lack of precipitation, corn on light soils was reportedly showing drought stress only three weeks into July, even in areas where moisture had been excessive, the report said.
The combination of not enough rain, late planting and below average temperatures stifled corn development, holding it behind normal across the state.
Farmers began harvesting corn silage in the week ending , starting with non-pollinated and dried up corn used to supplement short feed supplies and pastures in poor condition.
The harvest of corn for grain began the week ending . Unfortunately, rains throughout October and November caused high grain moistures and sodden fields. On Nov. 24, farmers had harvested 82 percent of corn for grain, five points behind the five-year average. Yields were highly variable, reporters said, and some corn intended for dry grain was taken for silage or high moisture corn instead.
On , only 1 percent of the state’s soybean crop had been planted, lagging the five-year average by 12 points. Throughout May and June, planting and emergence fell further and further behind the average. On , soybeans were 72 percent planted and 49 percent emerged, compared to the five-year average of 97 percent planted and 84 percent emerged.
Farmers kept planting though mid-July, due to wet field conditions and farmers deciding to switch some fields from corn to beans late in the season.
On , the report marked soybeans at 98 percent emerged with 66 percent in good to excellent condition. The late start combined with cool temperatures and low soil moisture kept the crop’s development from 10 and 20 percent behind normal throughout the summer, it said, as well as interfering with pollination and pod fill.
When soil conditions bottomed out on , wide variations in soybean conditions were documented, with 27 percent of the crop in poor to very poor condition and 42 percent in good to excellent condition.
Through September, drought damaged soybeans were reportedly being chopped for forage as the report’s “leaves turned” and “dropping leaves” indications continued to trail the average. Growers welcomed the warm temperatures and rains that fell that month and helped the crop mature.
By , the harvest was underway with 3 percent taken, compared to 38 percent the previous year and the five-year average of 12 percent. Reported yields ranged from below average to average, with some reports that combining was difficult because plants were low to the ground. On Nov. 24, the harvest had reached 97 percent complete.
Records were also broken in an unfortunate direction for oats. The spring’s wet conditions held planting to a record late start. On , only 5 percent of the state’s oat crop had been planted, 46 percentage points below the five-year average. This broke the previous record low of 7 percent planted on April 28, 2011, the report said.
Both planting and emergence rode well below normal throughout May and June, with planting marked 94 percent complete on . Emergence reached 96 percent on , with 68 percent of the state crop ranked in good to excellent condition.
Development and harvest tracked behind normal, thanks to the late start and adverse weather, with harvest beginning in mid-July and running about a week behind average. It wrapped up with 96 percent harvested on , with many reports of oats being double-cropped for supplemental forage.
The below average temperatures meant hay stands were very slow to break dormancy in 2013. On , the report said winter freeze damage to the state’s alfalfa was rated 19 percent severe, 23 percent moderate and 24 percent light, while 34 percent of stands escaped with no damage.
All cuttings of hay fell slightly behind the five-year average, the report noted, and nearly a month behind the records for early haying set in 2012.
Sparked by feed shortages and a rapidly maturing crop, farmers dodged wet spots as they began taking first cutting on. Their process was held up by soggy conditions that made drying hay nearly impossible in May and June, the report noted.
That abundant moisture meant second cutting grew quickly and was cut quickly when the ground firmed in July. However, the report continued, those dry, cool conditions slowed regrowth and lowered the quality and quantity of the third and fourth crops, which put pressure on already tight hay supplies.
On , growers were wrapping up third cutting with 95 percent complete and had harvested 46 percent of fourth cutting, a mark that lagged the five-year average by 16 percent. Due to the late start and the drought stress, some producers were unable to take a fourth crop this year, the report noted.
Thankfully, the rains that fell in October and November helped fall seedlings emerge and bolstered existing hay stands for the winter. As of , hay and roughage supplies were reported 26 percent short statewide.
The year also started on a challenging note for livestock producers. April’s snow, rain, flooding and low temperatures meant pastures started the season in poor shape. That lack of good pasture combined with feed shortages and weather-related calf losses to make it a difficult spring, the report said.
It got better with conditions improving through May and June. On , 87 percent of the state’s pasture stands were rated in good to excellent condition. The roller coaster rolled on, as dry weather in July and August proved hard on pasture land. By , 61 percent of the state’s pastures were rated in poor to very poor condition, but fall rains helped to improve conditions and bolster pastures for the coming winter.
The review was prepared by Greg Busier, state statistician; Mike Laird, research analyst, and Adrien Joyner, statistical assistant, based on the weekly crop reports made possible through the cooperative efforts of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, and the National Weather Service.