MADISON - Spring feels tantalizingly close.
One sure sign is the return of the "Wisconsin Crop Progress & Condition Report". The first issue, released April 3, told of record-breaking high temperatures in February that left much of the state free of snow cover.
March brought minimal snow and rainy, above-freezing days that left fields exposed to the occasional cold snaps. Reporters were concerned about damage to winter wheat and hay stands, the report said, but it's too early to fully assess winterkill
In some areas of the state, overwintered crops were beginning to green up and soils were frost-free, but there was still frost as deep as several inches in other areas.
Rusk County was among those not feeling it. "There's not much spring-like about the outdoors yet," the local reporter said in the document created with input from a state-wide network of farm reporters and county ag agents. "It's too wet to even haul manure on most ground and definitely no tillage yet. Spring wildflowers have not even peeked up out of the forest floor yet. Just waiting."
Field work was also on hold in Clark County. "Soil conditions are, at best, described as mud season," the reporter observed..
Trempealeau County was among the few who felt springish. "Winter cover crop rye is greening up, as is some south slope alfalfa," the reporter said. "Horse farmers are plowing and some manure pumping has begun."
The state's woods were quieting down after February's very warm temperatures got the maple tapping season off to an early and erratic start. Through March, more seasonal weather allowed for some good sap production, particularly up north.
Sap was still running for some producers, while for others, the season ended weeks ago.
Production and quality were highly variable. Rusk County, where the season was winding down, hit in the middle. "it was an OK year, but nothing great," the reporter commented.
Waupaca and Outagamie counties had an excellent season, and Clark County called it good.
However, the last of March was mostly cloudy, rainy, and blustery across Clark, except for the taste of spring that occurred on Tuesday. "No spring tillage has occurred, due to very soggy weather," the reporter added.
Spring officially began with Wisconsin's topsoil moisture supplies rated 0 percent very short, 1 percent short, 68 percent adequate and 31 percent surplus. Subsoil moisture supplies were rated 0 percent very short, 1 percent short, 70 percent adequate and 29 percent surplus.
The week ending April 2 offered a mere 0.7 days suitable for fieldwork. More wouldn't have helped much, considering highly saturated nature of most fields.
Milwaukee reported 1.9 inches of rain total and Madison got almost an inch. In Kenosha County, 2.05 inches fell on Thursday alone, leaving ponds everywhere.
Some farmers were getting out a bit, applying manure and fertilizer as conditions allowed. In Green County, the days were gray and hazy with some early morning fog. "Manure hauling and cleaning out of barns continues, but very little, if any, field work completed," the reporter noted.
In Walworth County, a few producers were putting on fertilizer and anhydrous, while farmers in Burnett and Washburn counties were hauling some manure and spreading lime.
In Pierce and St. Croix counties, manure was moving where the ground would carry the equipment and scattered lighter ground was getting tilled.
Some producers in Lafayette County got an early start to field operations, but the week of wet weather slowed things down.
In most of the state, the cold, muddy soils put the kibosh on fieldwork. "It is very quiet in the fields, owing to the sound of frequent rains," the Fond du Lac County reporter observed.
In Sheboygan County, cold, wet conditions have grounded farmers, while sporadic rain throughout last week left Vernon County with very muddy conditions and little opportunity to do any field work.
Statewide, spring tillage was 1 percent complete on April 2, equal to last year and to the five-year average, and 2 percent of oats had been planted.
In Waupaca and Outagamie counties, winter wheat appears to have survived with very little damage. However, in Shawano County, the very wet ground conditions have farmers concerned about alfalfa winter kill and the condition of winter wheat.
Statewide, winter wheat was rated 54 percent in good to excellent condition.
The report observed that sunny, warm days are needed to improve field conditions for planting.
The "Wisconsin Crop Progress Report" is a cooperative efforts of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, and the National Weather Service.