Sultry stretch boosts crops, buffets livestock

Carole Curtis


This year’s harvest of winter  harvest is running nearly a week ahead of last year.

Heat and humidity combined for a greenhouse effect over the past two weeks that boosted crop growth as it stressed livestock.

The “Wisconsin Crop Progress & Condition Reports” for the two-week period ending July 31 told of temperatures lofting into upper 80’s and 90’s with extreme humidity pushing heat indexes into the triple digits.

The heat wave sparked waves of thunderstorms, some sailing through with winds that damaged crops and farm buildings. In Columbia County, high winds caused some lodging in oats, wheat and corn fields

The overall result was a greenhouse effect that corn and soybeans reveled in, responding with a burst of growth as abundant soil moisture supported pollination and helped crops weather the heat.

The Fond du Lac reporter figured the accumulated degree days April 1 through July 31 totaled 1,658. "More beneficial rains fell this period- 2.35 inches- bringing the July total to 6.30 inches," he added.

"Fourth crop alfalfa stands to yield well if these rains keep up, and all manner of pest pressures remains low," he said. "We haven't had a gripe-free crop weather year like this since 2010."

In Vernon County, rainfall measured 4.5 inches in some areas, pushing totals for the month of July up to 9 inches. "It's impossible to make dry hay and weeds are growing like crazy," the reporter said, adding the corn and soybeans look great, but pasture quality is very poor for cattle.

It was a different story in Florence and Forest counties, where very little, very scattered rain and hot, windy days are creating very dry top soil conditions.

"Hay and pastures are drying up. Second crop hay is very short and thin and drying out fast," the reporter shared. "There's a lot of ground travel per ton of hay and quality is dropping off fast.  We're going to have to supplemental feed cows soon due to lack of pasture and the poor quality."

As July gave way to August, the state's topsoil moisture supply averaged 0 percent very short, 6 percent short, 85 percent adequate and 9 percent surplus. Subsoil moisture supplies were rated 1 percent very short, 8 percent short, 84 percent adequate and 7 percent surplus

“It is like a natural greenhouse for the crops the past few weeks with high temps and plenty of moisture. Everything looks excellent, although milk cows suffered some in the high humidity days of the week,” the Shawano County reporter commented.

“Growing degree days are ahead of the five-year average for our area," the Barron County reporter added. "This area received two significant rainfalls this week and the crops are looking great!”

In Portage and Wood counties, the weather was perfect with rains coming a half inch at a time and several times a week over the past month. “It’s a little hard to make dry hay, but the rest of the crops, overall, are very, very good for what is normally the hottest, driest time of the year,” that reporter noted.

Corn soaks up weather

The corn, especially, enjoyed the weather. “I went to town in the morning and when I came back in the afternoon, it seemed as if the corn grew at least two feet in height. Overnight, it grew more until now it is way over my head,” the La Crosse reporter said.

On July 24, 64 percent of the state’s corn was silking, 4 days ahead of last year and 6 days ahead of the five-year average. By July 31st, 88 percent of the state’s corn acreage was in or beyond the silking stage, 6 days ahead of last year, and 10 days ahead of the five-year average.

Ten percent of corn had reached the dough stage, 3 days ahead of last year, and 3 days ahead of the average.  The condition of the crop came in at 87 percent good to excellent.

Chippewa County reported corn rootworm beetles being common in many corn-following-corn fields, although populations of leafhopper and soybean aphids remained low.

Soybean maturity pulled a good 14 days ahead of last year and 16 days ahead of average, with 93 percent at or beyond the blooming stage by the end of July. Sixty-nine percent of soybeans had begun setting pods, 8 days ahead of last year, and 13 days ahead of the average.

The condition of the crop was pegged at 88 percent good to excellent.

Weather stresses livestock, other crops

However, the hot, muggy conditions stressed livestock as it trimmed the days suitable for fieldwork back to 4.2  and 4.6, making it hard for farmers to cut dry hay. By July 31, 95 percent of the second cutting of alfalfa and 48 percent of third cutting was complete.

The condition of the state's hay fields held steady at 89 percent good to excellent, while pastures improved a point to 78 percent good to excellent.

The weather was not the best for harvesting winter wheat, either, but farmers kept after it, taking 70 percent of the state crop by the end of July, 5 days ahead of last year. The crop was rated 89 percent in good to excellent condition.

Kewaunee County reported wheat yields in the 60 to 70 bushel per acre range, with moisture content of 12-14 percent.

The county’s oat crop was close to harvest and getting tall. That means a lot of straw and, unfortunately, a better chance for lodging to occur, the reporter added. “Some weeds are starting to show up in the wheat and oat fields, increasing the harvest pace somewhat in order to stay ahead of them.”

Statewide, the oat crop was two days ahead of last year, with 93 percent coloring or beyond.  Farmers had pulled off 34 percent of the oat grain crop, 3 days ahead of last year and 2 days ahead of the average.. The crop's condition rating improved one point to  87 percent good to excellent.

Eight percent of potatoes had been harvested statewide, 2 days behind last year.  Potato condition was rated 90 percent good to excellent

The weekly “Wisconsin Crop Progress & Condition 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.