That 2013 was another difficult cropping year is well known.
Just how it is playing out was outlined by three area independent crop consultants during the Manitowoc County Forage Council's late summer twilight meeting held on the Mark McCulley family farm.
The cropping year started by having to "scrap the plan that we had in March," Joe Kolbe of rural Chilton stated.
With 50-75 percent of the alfalfa stand lost during the winter on many farms, it was necessary to reconfigure the forage growing approach for the year - a task about which he commended the area seed suppliers for their helpful response.
During the spring, wet fields and poor seedbeds were prominent on the area's agricultural landscape, ultimately resulting in the season's "up and down" corn fields and the likelihood of lower yields, Kolbe pointed out. "The soil could not breathe."
Kolbe is expecting corn yields in the area to be even 20-40 percent less than they were from the drought-affected crop in 2012.
He said "the fields look better" than the yields are likely to be and noted that corn fields coming out of a forage sod fared the best this year.
The winterkill also hit some winter wheat fields, which were converted to soybeans and corn instead, Kolbe remarked. "It's been a tough and expensive year for crop production."
Jeff Pionek of rural Manitowoc suggested that a large part of the wavy, rolling, or up and down appearance of many area corn fields was due to soil compaction.
"That's the yield culprit," he commented while making his prediction that corn silage yields would come in at less than Manitowoc County's published average of 17.5 tons per acre in 2012.
The fired or burned leaves on the bottom portion of the corn stalks in many fields by mid-August was due by the inability of the plants to extract enough nitrogen from the soil, Pionek stated.
"There's a lot to learn," including staying off soil when it is too wet for farm vehicle traffic, he said.
As his third point, Pionek cited the difference between the growers' goal of high per acre corn plant populations and the actual population in some fields this year.
He attributed this to a combination of poor seed placement and, in some cases, the eating of corn seeds or pulling of plants by the area's high concentration of sandhill cranes.
He said farmers coping with the birds should consider using the biological seed treatment, which limits their consumption of seeded corn kernels.
Corn Silage Drydown
Longtime area crop consultant Steve Hoffman of Manitowoc told the farmers who are going to harvest corn for silage to keep a close watch on whole plant moisture so the crop can be harvested at the right time.
He said attention needs to be given not only to the firing of the bottom leaves, but also to how leaves are alive below the corn ear, and to when the corn kernels reach the 50/50 milkline.
Based on his observations so far, Hoffman said the first corn in the area should be harvested for silage by Sept. 10 but that the maturity of the bulk of the crop indicates a Sept, 25 harvesting date. But that's only if a beneficial rainfall comes fairly soon, he warned.
Hoffman announced that, with the cooperation of the forage council and the Extension Service, the moisture testing of corn stalks would begin on Tuesday, Sept. 3.
Bringing samples to the drydown will be crucial for having a starting point for whole plant moisture in a situation, if not relieved by rain, that could easily result in a one percentage drop of whole plant moisture per day, he explained.
In a special presentation, Pionek displayed two multi-stemmed plants from the unique variety of forage corn that he planted in the second week of July.
He thought it would have grown to a height of more than the four feet it had reached by late August but is optimistic about the potential for the earless male sterile variety.
Pionek planted the corn in 10-inch rows at the rate of 67,000 seeds per acre. The plants he brought to the meeting had four tillers or stalks each.
There is a possibility of per acre yields of seven-eight dry matter tons of forage at 18 percent protein, Pionek indicated.
He said the specialty corn has a bit of the brown mid-rib trait, can serve an alternative fill-in to provide extra forage in disrupted cropping years, and could be a good addition to dairy rations that tend to be too high in overall starch.
Growing cropping season lead-in cover crops such as radish, peas, and barley has turned out with a uniform stand of corn this year on no-till land that he owns, Bruce Riesterer of the Manitowoc County soil and water conservation department told the approximately 50 twilight meeting attendees.
His next planned venture is an aerial seeding of winter rye into 80 acres of soybeans.
Crop Loss Followups
With Manitowoc County being among the many declared a disaster area for winterkill of crops in 2013, farmers are eligible to apply for low-cost (1.875 percent) emergency loans.
These loans can help them recover if they can show they had a loss of at least 30 percent on any crop, according to Brad Englebert, the farm loan manager at the Farm Service Agency office in the county. The deadline for applying is March 3 of 2014.
Englebert said the farm's other lender(s) must agree to the arrangement, the repayment term is one to seven years, and, unlike with the FSA's direct loans, there is no problem with funding for emergency loans.
He predicted that another disaster declaration is likely to be made for the windstorm losses of corn that occurred in the northern part of Manitowoc County on the evening of Aug. 7.
Farmers who suffered losses on their pastures or winter rye crops in 2013 might want to consider insurance coverage through the FSA for those crops along with other crops such as peas and oats, county office director Tom Schneider pointed out. This is called the non-insured crop disaster assistance program (NAP).
There is a $250 per year cost for NAP insurance on those crops regardless of the number of acres, Schneider explained.
He noted that Sept. 30 is the purchase deadline for insurance on those crops (even peas and oats to be planted in 2014) and that the FSA requires acreage reports for both rye and pasture to be filed by Nov. 15 even if the insurance is not purchased.
The special insurance program offers coverage for 50 percent of the crop yield at 55 percent of an established market price for the crop. Schneider indicated that a total loss of a winter rye crop in the spring of 2013 would have led to a payment of at least $20 per acre.