Farmers have spent this spring dodging rain and getting in fields as conditions allowed, planting, tilling and spreading manure as quickly as possible, in many cases working around wet spots in fields.
According to UW-Extension Clark County Agricultural Educator Richard Halopka, fields are currently so full of moisture that any amount of new precipitation has the potential to set farmers back even more.
“When you drive past areas of wetlands, that water isn’t disappearing out of those wetlands into channels. It’s just sitting there. That’s telling me that the subsoil has got a lot of water in it yet,” Halopka said. “A lot of fields are still at or above field capacity, but farmers are getting out there and getting things planted. They may be avoiding low spots, but a lot of corn, a lot of crops have been planted this week.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Wisconsin Crop Progress and Condition report for the week ending June 2, a frustrating May was capped with a Memorial Day rain that soaked much of the state and brought planting to a standstill.
“We’d be in the fields if we could just get three nice days in a row,” said George Gierok, who was preparing his farm for the June 8 Trempealeau County Dairy Breakfast while hoping to get fieldwork done.
Farmers were fortunate to be able to use the last week of May and first week of June to get as much in the ground as possible.
“There’s a lot of planting going on,” Halopka said. “It doesn’t matter where you go, it seems like areas of the state where farmers are normally done by now, they’re just getting a good start. There are areas of fields that have been planted and areas you can’t get in. It’s pretty widespread.”
According to the June 2 Crop Progress report, Grant and Crawford counties in the southwestern corner of the state said, “all field operations open for business including manure hauling, tillage, planting, and first crop hay.” The report said the last week of May saw, “more tractors on the road than cars. One guy was pulling five wagons in the field loading bales while the neighbor was pulling two chopper boxes behind one tractor while filling.”
The report said, as of June 2, spring tillage was 76 percent complete statewide, 11 days behind last year and 14 days behind the five-year average. Corn planting was 58 percent complete, 13 days behind last year and 17 days behind the average, and 34 percent of soybeans were planted, which was 13 days behind last year and 15 days behind the average.
Halopka was hopeful things would look better on the following week’s report.
“There’s a lot of activity out there,” Halopka said. “(When reporting for the June 2 Crop Progress report) I was at 25 to 30 percent of the corn planted. By the end of this week I think we’ll be approaching 75 percent of the corn planted. I know there’s soybeans going in. There’s a lot of peas and oats, small grains, alfalfa getting planted.
“Everybody’s planting everything at once, which is typical when you have a spring like we’re having here in 2019.”
Halopka said he has been hearing from farmers with questions about the prevented planting option of their crop insurance coverage.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about prevented planting,” he said. “The best advice I can give farmers when you’re talking about prevented plant is to contact your crop insurance agent and take a pencil and pad of paper and push it a little bit to make your decision.”
For crop insurance, the final planting dates in Wisconsin differ by crop and county, according to Paul Mitchell of UW-Madison’s Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. The dates are May 25 for corn for grain and May 31 for corn silage in the north and May 31 for corn for grain and June 5 for corn silage in the south. For soybeans, the dates are June 10 in the north and June 15 in the south.
Acres planted after those dates are still insured, but farmers must notify their crop insurance agents, even if they do not have late and prevented planting coverage, according to Mitchell’s May 30 paper, “Late and Prevented Planting Options and Crop Insurance for Wisconsin Farmers,” https://aae.wisc.edu/pdmitchell/CropInsurance/LatePreventPlant2019.pdf.
Halopka said farmers who take prevented planting payouts need to stay within guidelines of their crop insurance documents, but there could be opportunities to plant forages.
“Farmers really need to read the fine print in their policy,” Halopka said.
The June 2 Crop Progress report added that all hay condition was reported 38 percent in good to excellent condition, up 2 percentage points from the previous week, and pasture condition was rated 55 percent in good to excellent condition, up 3 percentage points from the previous week.
Halopka said the slow growing season has some farmers at risk of running out of feed. He said he’s seen a lot of winter small grains cut last week to help fill in feed gaps.
“I’ve also seen some hay across the county come off where guys are probably just getting enough in the bunk to keep things fed until they have a little bit better volume and where the maturity is where they want,” he said. “But forages are tight.
“Farmers are going to be running a lot of equipment across some hay fields this year where they are giving up some yield, but at least they’ve got some feed.”
Halopka said more than 80 percent of alfalfa/forages were lost to winterkill in Clark County.
“That might be a conservative number,” he said. “We had a lot of winterkill, and that’s across the whole state. It’s not just here.
“The stress level on the farm is extremely high. I know that there isn’t a lot we can do when you have a spring like this to alleviate the stress. Farmers have to make choices to the best of their abilities, move forward and get things planted. We’ve got a lot of growing season yet to go this year.”