A farmer driving a John Deere tractor works his way across a field north of the city of Manitowoc in eastern Wisconsin.

Things are looking up as Wisconsin agriculture enters the home stretch of the 2021 harvest season this fall.

The state’s staple crops are generally performing at last year’s pace or a few days ahead of schedule, well ahead of the five-year average.

“I think this year was a good year. It’s been dry and we’ve had plenty of heat, but we’ve also had good planting conditions. We’re on a good pace here and our crops are in good shape to harvest,” said Josh Kamps, an agriculture agent with UW-Extension in Lafayette County. “If we can just continue getting some nice stretches of wet whether, I think we’re on pace for a good fruitful harvest season.”

This comes during a stretch of warmer than normal temperatures, with sporadic rainfall across Wisconsin that benefited some farms while bypassing others altogether, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wisconsin Crop Progress report released Monday, Oct. 4.

Topsoil moisture conditions were rated at 11% very short, 16% short, 69% adequate and 4% surplus across the state. In turn, subsoil conditions were rated 11% very short, 13% short, 72% adequate and 4% surplus.

Eighty percent of corn was rated mature, which stands one day ahead of 2020 and 11 days ahead of the five-year average. Harvest for grain was 12% complete, while 91% of corn silage has been harvested. On that note, 73% of corn was rated good to excellent condition, which marks a three percentage point drop from last week.

As for soybeans, 94% are dropping leaves or beyond. Thirty-one percent of the harvest is complete, which is five days ahead of last year and more than a week ahead of the five-year average. Conditions for this year’s crop were rated 73% good to excellent, which marks a 2% drop from last week.

“We’ve had some unusual weather,” observed Richard Halopka, a crops and livestock agent with UW-Extension in Clark County. “Some soybean fields aren’t dry. I know guys who are drying corn, holding off. I would go into a field if it’s 25% harvestable. You never know what tomorrow will bring.”

This year’s potato harvest is 71% complete. The fourth cutting of alfalfa is 92% complete. Pasture conditions were rated 60% good to excellent, which indicates a 4% drop from last week, while fall tillage is rated 19% complete. That last item is a 9-day lead on the five-year average.

In terms of winter wheat, planting is rated 59% complete, which stands at 5 days behind last year, but 8 days ahead of the five-year average. Twenty-nine percent of winter wheat has emerged, which is nearly a week behind last year, but 2 days ahead of the five-year average.

Kamps noted many farmers are dealing with pressures that have emerged in recent days — perhaps most notably, a combination of drier conditions and the emergence of fall armyworms in many fields. Farmers need to be cognizant of these factors, he advised, and take steps to mitigate low soil moisture by doing some tilling and water infiltration to prepare for next year.

“We’re watching some of our corn fields just a little bit for stock integrity,” Kamps said. “I’m really trying to encourage farmers to to prioritize fields that had a little extra damage.”

While farmers often take their eyes off crop markets during the harvest season, Kamps encouraged them to keep tabs on market fluctuations, noting there could be great opportunities that emerge now or in the coming months.

“Whether they’re working with a technical marketer or whether they’re working with a straight cash sale marketer, we’re gonna have some opportunities,” Kamps said. “They may not be exactly right now during harvest, but if we can watch those markets to an idea of maybe how many bushels of grain that we do want to sell. Then we can be ready when the market is at a price where we can be profitable to go ahead and sell.”

As it currently stands, Halopka noted markets for corn, soybeans, alfalfa and the like are experiencing a dip — which is to be expected during harvest — but that farmers should track prices carefully so they’ll be ready if they decide to cash in.

“Do I make my money now or do I wait to deal after harvest?” Halopka said. “That’s everyone’s decision to make. ... Down the road, all farmers need to be pushing that pencil a bit harder this winter and looking at what their needs might be. Work with your suppliers. Prices could be much higher.”

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