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Mother Nature failed to deal out many break to farmers during the 2017 growing season. Long before the first clod of soil was turned, producers experienced widespread concern for overwintered crops thanks to unusually warm weather in February followed by sparse snow cover and fluctuating temperatures in March.

According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service 2017 Wisconsin Progress Review, a cold, wet spring set the tone for the growing year. Waterlogged soils and frequent rains left a total of 10.4 days suitable for fieldwork in the month of April.

Although the month of May ushered in a period of drier conditions, allowing farmers to get a good start on fieldwork, that window slammed shut when a surge of heavy rains, flooding, and severe storms stalled fieldwork.

Continued wet conditions caused planting to drag on through May and well into June. Reports filtering in from around the state spoke of fields drowned out or washed away by the frequent rains, forcing farmers to replant. Wet conditions also delayed or prevented weed control and nitrogen applications in some areas.

This difficult start affected crops throughout the summer, with crop conditions mixed and crop development trailing behind the 5-year average statewide.

June and July were noted for being very wet with frequent rains causing flooding and severe thunderstorms damaging crops, and prevented timely haying in many areas.

Variable temperatures

Below normal temperatures in August and early September kept crop development behind average. Unseasonably warm and dry weather in late September helped to push late-planted crops toward maturity and dried out the soil for fieldwork; although tillage and planting activities continued to trend behind normal throughout the fall.

While farmers were hoping for a warm, dry fall, the month of October disappointed them, bringing even more rain and a return of soggy field conditions with temperatures swinging between summer-like and wintry. Prayers for a late frost were short-lived after some areas of northern Wisconsin received their first frost during the week ending October 15 and a hard freeze hit statewide during the week ending October 29.

Drizzle, fog and overcast skies kept grain moistures high throughout November, especially in late-planted crops. Fall tillage was 68 percent complete on November 26, well below 85 percent complete the previous year.

Statewide, February temperatures averaged 8.2 degrees above normal while March temperatures averaged 0.4 degree below normal. April, September and October had above normal temperatures; June and July had averages within 1 degree of normal; while May, August and November had below normal temperatures.

The average temperature for June through September was 65.2 degrees, compared with 67.0 degrees in 2016 and a normal of 64.9 degrees.

Rain totals

According to the report, the statewide precipitation total for April through September was 25.94 inches, 1.08 inches less than the previous year but 3.51 inches more than normal. Statewide, September and November had below normal precipitation.

July precipitation totals ranged from 1.41 inches below normal in the North Central District to 3.76 inches above normal in the Southwest District.

August precipitation ranged from 2.67 inches below normal in the Southwest District to
1.84 inches above normal in the Northwest District. April, May, June, and October had above normal precipitation across the state.

Late corn crop

Cold, wet soils delayed the beginning of corn planting in 2017. Only one percent of corn was planted by April 23, about a week behind the 5-year average. Wet conditions kept planting and emergence behind average throughout May and into June.

The wide variation in planting dates resulted in a persistent variation in crop condition and maturity among corn fields. Corn condition averaged 69 percent good to excellent for late May through mid-November, compared with 86 percent good to excellent in 2016.

Corn pollination and development remained behind the 5-year average throughout the summer.

Dry, hot weather in the latter half of September helped boost the crop toward maturity before the first frost hit. Silage chopping got off to a late start due to lagging corn maturity, and wrapped up in early November, about a week behind average.

Rain, fog and damp weather kept grain moistures high in late fall. Reporters noted many farmers were delaying grain harvest in an attempt to minimize drying costs. On November 26, 81 percent of corn for grain was harvested compared with 95 percent in 2016.

Soybeans finish slow

Like corn, soybean planting also started around a week behind the 5-year average, and suffered from weather delays. Warm weather in July kept soybean pollination in line with the 5-year average.

Cooler temperatures in August slowed progress, but summer-like temperatures in late September gave soybean maturity a chance to catch back up. Soybean condition averaged 74 percent good to excellent for June through mid-October, compared with 85 percent good to excellent for the previous year.

The soybean harvest dragged on through variable fall conditions and high grain moistures, reaching 96 percent harvested on November 26.

Oat condition varies

Oats planting lagged slightly behind the 5-year average due to a lack of days suitable for fieldwork in April, with variations in planting dates similar to other crops. Wet conditions and cool temperatures slowed oat maturity throughout the summer, particularly as the crop ripened in August.

Oat condition averaged 77 percent good to excellent from May through mid-August, compared with 85 percent the previous year. Oats reached 98 percent harvested on September 17.

Winter wheat finishes strong

Winter wheat started April with 54 percent of the crop in good to excellent condition, well below the 79 percent the previous year. Wheat condition improved gradually through the summer months but remained below the 2016 average.

Condition peaked at 79 percent good to excellent on July 30, with an average of 70 percent good to excellent for April through early August. Again, wet and cool conditions slowed maturity and harvest operations, with most of the crop being harvested in the last week of July and the first week of August.

Winter wheat planting trended ahead of the previous year, as many farmers opted to plant wheat while waiting for corn grain moistures to fall. Bouts of sunny, warm weather promoted strong emergence and good growth before dormancy.

Winter wheat condition averaged 84 percent good to excellent from mid-October through the end of November, compared with 82 percent good to excellent in 2016.

Abundant hay crop

By May 21, many farmers' fears were realized when winter freeze damage to alfalfa fields was calculated. Five percent of the damage was rated as severe, with 10 percent moderate and 26 percent light. There were reportedly no damages to the remaining 59 percent of hay stands, down from 77 percent undamaged the previous year.

The first cutting of hay was delayed but rapidly caught up to and moved ahead of the 5-year average during early June. Cool temperatures and frequent rains throughout the spring and summer meant abundant hay but few windows of good weather for baling.

Reporters commented producers were making more haylage than usual in an effort to harvest forage at optimal maturity. Dry, warm weather in September offered excellent conditions for making dry hay, allowing the fourth cutting to exceed the average harvest pace.

Abundant moisture and some above normal temperatures during October and November left hay stands in good condition to overwinter. Hay condition was
77 percent good to excellent on average for May through mid-September, compared with 87 percent good to excellent in 2016.

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