Severe weather hammers farms, stops fieldwork

Carole Curtis

MADISON - Heavy rain and severe thunderstorms hammered Wisconsin last week, slowing fieldwork and chopping the days farmers could work their fields down to 2.6.

Flooding, large hail and strong winds damaged fields, trees and farm buildings around the state. The "Wisconsin Crop Progress & Condition Report" said Northern Wisconsin was hit the hardest, with up to 12 inches of rain falling between May 15 and May 21.

More rain on already wet fields in the state slowed progress on spring fieldwork.

Farms in Barron and Rusk Counties were struck by a tornado on the evening of Tuesday, May 16, causing major damage to some agricultural structures and destroying others. That was followed by five inches of rain.

Some areas of Polk County were deluged with 4-5 inches of rain in short order, causing flash flooding. The southern part of the county was pummeled by hail the size of tennis balls that damaged farm structures, equipment and livestock.

Clark County got over three inches of rain. Florence and Forest reported between 3 and 5 inches, and over seven inches drenched parts of Pierce and St. Croix counties. Adequate field waterways and buffers really paid off for those who practice and maintain good conservation systems, including no-till planting, the local reporter commented.

"Some early hay cut a week ago is still laying in wet windrows, and you can now 'row' lots of corn that was planted prior to last week’s rains," he added.

In Portage and Wood counties, it rained every day of the week. "We have gotten five inches of rain in the last week. Nothing moved," the reporter said.

As of May 21, the state's topsoil moisture supplies were rated 56 percent adequate and 44 percent surplus, while subsoil moisture supplies rose to 65 percent adequate and 35 percent surplus.

Warm, dry weather is needed to drain saturated fields, the report said.

In many areas of the state, farmers were concerned the effect cold temperatures and standing water would have on their recently planted fields.

Frost advisories were issued for Eau Claire County, and the cold and wet weather was blamed for early planted corn emerging yellow in Waupaca and Outagamie counties.

The state's first cutting of alfalfa began, with 5 percent completed by week's end. In some areas, the alfalfa was close to ideal maturity for cutting, but soils were too wet to support machinery.

The report rated the state's hay alfalfa freeze damage as 5 percent severe, 10 percent moderate and 26 percent light, with 59 percent undamaged.

Crop damage from frost was the worst was in the east central and southeast districts, where damage was 17 percent severe/26 percent moderate and 25 percent severe/9 percent moderate, respectively.

The condition of all hay was marked at 71 percent good to excellent.

Pasture condition remained at 81 percent good to excellent. Winter wheat was 67 percent in good to excellent condition statewide, compared to the previous week's 71 percent good to excellent.

In Kewaunee County, quite a few fields have yet to be tilled and many that have are still fallow. It is possible that all the crops may not be planted before the first crop is made, the local reporter noted.

In Clark County, PEAQ stick readings for hay were already at 200 RFV on the south end of the county, while the north end was in the 230-250 RFV range.

As of May 21, the state's spring tillage was 81 percent complete statewide, 11 days behind last year and one day ahead of the five-year average.

Corn planting was 65 percent complete, 10 days behind last year and three days behind the average. Corn emerged was at 21 percent, five days behind last year and two days behind the average.

Planting was finished on 21 percent of the state's soybean acres, eight days behind last year and four days behind the average. Three percent of the beans had emerged.

In Waukesha County, where a lot of planting remains to be done, farmers are worried about the cutoff date.

Statewide, oats were one day ahead of average, with 88 percent planted by week's end, eight days behind last year. Emergence was pegged at 61 percent, seven days behind last year and two days behind the average.

The week closed with 93 percent of the state's potatoes in the ground, slightly behind last year.

The "Wisconsin Crop Progress & Condition 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.