Hay shortages, prevented planting weigh heavy on farmers' minds

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer
Farmers across the state are dealing with soggy conditions like this field in Waukesha County.

Frequent rain storms last week again left farmers with little time for field work. With wetter, colder soil conditions, crop planting and emergence are well behind the normal for the end of May - nearly two weeks behind the average for corn and soybeans. 

Reporters across the state noted that there would likely be some prevented plantings, and wet field conditions were preventing herbicide and fertilizer applications as well as tillage, according to the USDA Wisconsin Crop Progress and Condition report for the week ending May 26. 

Hay stands across the state are struggling to bounce back after widespread winterkill. With forage and hay supplies tight, some livestock producers reportedly may have to make their first cutting of alfalfa before the crop reaches optimal maturity.

Such was the case in La Crosse County, where 4 inches of rain prevented any kind of progress in fields. Hay fields looked poor but the absence of feed on hand pushed farmers to chop existing short hay for feed.    

In Barron County, hay that survived winterkill was in bud stage by the end of last week and hay harvest is expected to be in full steam this week, along with planting operations. 

However, in Burnett and Washburn counties, very few alfalfa fields were saved, according to the report, thus potentially resulting in a very short supply of hay this year. Similar fears were echoed in Menominee and Shawano counties.

"Many producers have been drilling grass mixes or clover on top of poor alfalfa fields to get some kind of hay," the Menominee and Shawano reporter said. "There are concerns with a large hay shortage due to hay stocks already being low from last year's April blizzard and the patchy winterkill this year."             

Sawyer County has more than 75-80% alfalfa winterkill in some areas and in Marathon County hay prices are high. 

All fields are extremely wet in Oconto County and "thoughts of prevented planting are very real." the farm reporter said. 

There were a lot of prevented planting discussions taking place around Rock County as well. 

"Farmers planting in fields that are wetter than preferred," said the Vernon County reporter. "Looks like there is going to be prevented planting above normal this year."

With soils wetter than farmers would like to see, major switching to soybeans is expected, according to the Columbia County farm reporter. 

The Washington County farm reporter summed it up best, "Not the best weather so far this year."

Carol Spaeth-Bauer at 262-875-9490 or Follow her on Twitter at cspaethbauer or Facebook at