Wet weather downshifts fieldwork

Carole Curtis
Now Media Group


April ended on a soggy, chilly note that stalled Wisconsin farmers' progress in the fields, but sparked winter wheat and alfalfa into a burst of growth.

'Rain curtailed field operations that had been going full speed the week before. There was little or no planting,' the Barron County reporter said in the 'Wisconsin Crop Progress & Condition Report' for the week ending May 1.

However, overwintering crops of wheat, rye, hay and alfalfa grew well. The precipitation may have slowed planting, he observed, but it moved the crops forward. In some areas, fruit trees began to unfurl their blossoms.

Storms hit

Temperatures ran below normal as April ended. Green Bay dropped to a low of 31 degrees during the week, while Eau Claire and Madison chilled to 36 degrees. Storm clouds lingered over the state, dropping between half an inch to three inches of rain and cutting the number of days suitable for fieldwork back to four.

Chippewa County got a little over 1.7 inches of rain and some sleet which, effectively, brought the planting progress in the area to a halt with most small grains planted and, for some large cash crop farms, some corn in the ground.

Ashland and Iron counties reported heavy rains at the beginning of the week that resulted in no field activity.

Across the southern portion of the state where conditions have been dry, the moisture was welcomed.

Not so in the northern and east central districts, where continuing muddy conditions and lower soil temperatures are keeping planting activities on hold.

In Shawano County, most fields featured standing water. 'Ground temperatures are very cold yet,' that reporter shared, although a few well-tiled fields were being worked as the week ended, with some alfalfa and oats being planted.

Statewide, topsoil moistures declined from the previous week's 21 percent surplus to 18 percent surplus, 77 percent adequate and 5 percent short, while subsoil moisture fell from 18 percent surplus to 12 percent surplus, 84 percent adequate and 4 percent short.

The extremes were the northeast district, where soil moisture was marked 36 percent surplus, and the southwest district with 7 percent surplus.

Planting underway

In La Crosse County, the overcast weather kept some corn planters from rolling. 'It didn't rain hard; just enough to get the soil muddy,' the reporter commented, but in Ozaukee and Washington counties, the cool and wet weather that dominated the week prevented producers from making any progress in their fields.

Where conditions allowed, planting, tillage and manure spreading continued.

Farmers in Juneau County made a lot of progress planting corn before the rain came. 'Things were getting dry, so the rain was welcome. It was a steady rain and soaked in pretty well,' the local reporter shared.

Vernon County farmers were also happy with the 0.7 inches of rain they got, putting a nice finish to their manure hauling and plantings of small grains and corn. 'Small grains are merging and looking good,' the reporter said.

In Dodge County, the cooler than average temperatures didn't hamper efforts as farmers made good progress on planting and spring tillage.

As of May 1, 53 percent of the state's spring tillage was complete, one day behind last year and 10 days ahead of the five-year average. At 24 percent complete, the northeast district was at the bottom of the spread, while the southwest district topped it with 81 percent.

Corn planting was also beating the average. May began with 22 percent of the crop in the ground, two days behind last year, but four days ahead of the five-year average. In the southern parts of the state, corn was already emerging.

Meanwhile, cool conditions kept the lid on in Waupaca County. 'The cold weather has soil temperatures below desirable levels for planting most crops,' the reporter said. 'Alfalfa is also slow, due to the cool weather, but winter wheat looks good.'

The weather was also impacting Kewaunee County. 'This area has been slow to get in the fields,' the reporter noted, but it wasn't the rain; it was the cold. 'Temperatures have been cool, with highs only in the 40s.'

A bit of oats and alfalfa had been planted and a lot of manure had been applied in anticipation of corn planting, he added, but producers were not quite ready to hit the spring work hard yet.

The state's plantings of oats pulled a week ahead of the five-year average, although the week's end mark of 54 percent complete put 2016 three days behind last year. Oats emerged was pegged at 18 percent, two days behind 2015, but three days ahead of the five-year average.

Potato planting had fallen a tad behind, with 55 percent of the crop tucked in, two days behind last year.

In the soybean fields, farmers had poked in 2 percent of the state's expected acres.

The condition of winter wheat rose 2 percentage points over the week to 84 percent in good to excellent condition statewide, while pasture condition jumped from 60 to 65 percent good to excellent.

'Winter wheat and alfalfa are looking quite good at this time,' the Shawano County reporter said, a sentiment echoed by the reporter from St. Croix County. 'Alfalfa is really starting to grow. It looks like an early, excellent crop,' he commented.

In Chippewa County, alfalfa measured 10-14 inches tall in most fields and dandelions, yellow rocket and shepherd's purse were flowering in older and poorer stands of alfalfa.

Kewaunee County's alfalfa and winter wheat put the cooler weather to good use for growth. 'For the most part, these two crops came through the winter in good shape and they're looking more than acceptable now,' the reporter noted.

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.