If not entirely gone, snow and frost are disappearing quickly, and farmers are eager to get into the fields.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service Wisconsin Crop Progress report issued April 22, manure spreading, tillage and early planting are all starting, but conditions, while difficult in the southern districts, are even more difficult in the central and northern districts.

“I’m sure there will be some people getting out in the next couple days, depending on what the weather does,” UW-Extension Clark County Agricultural Educator Richard Halopka said. “My personal feeling is, if we’re in the fields by May 1, we’re doing OK. If we’re not in there by May 10, there would start to be some concern.

“But you’ve got your Plan A, and you’ve got your Plan B. Then you have plans C and D in your back pocket, just in case. And if we start to get close to June, you ask yourself, do you need corn silage or high-moisture corn, and that’s your Plan C or D.”

According to the April 22 Crop Progress report, spring tillage was 8 percent complete statewide, up 5 percentage points from the previous week but 5 points behind the five-year average. The report stated that corn planting was 1 percent complete, one point behind the five-year average, and oats were reported as 10 percent complete, five days ahead of last year but four days behind the five-year average.

“We can try to push the envelope, but what is that going to get us in the end?” Halopka said. “Farmers don’t like me telling them this, but until the fields are ready to go, sometimes we’re better off enjoying a cup of coffee and looking out the window at the sunshine than we are getting out in the fields and breaking equipment.”

Jon Wantoch, agronomist for Synergy Cooperative in Ridgeland, said most area farmers are on pace for a normal spring planting season, unless the rains keep coming. Some sunshine and warm, dry weather are needed.

“If it keeps raining an inch or two every three days, that could quickly put us behind normal,” he said. “It’s just a matter of fighting rain showers now.”

He said local farmers with sandy ground expected to be in the fields by the end of last week, while those with heavier soils — still spongy and saturated — are still waiting for conditions to dry out, and it could be a week or two, depending on the weather.

Wantoch said a lot of farmers he works with like to be planting corn between May 1-10, with soybeans going into the ground soon after. Once the weather cooperates, it doesn’t take them long to get the crop in.

“These guys have gotten so efficient,” Wantoch said. “Equipment is bigger and faster and more reliable. They can put in more acres so much faster. What was normal 20 years ago isn’t normal anymore.”

He said about 80 percent of the corn crop was planted within about a 10-day period last year, and a similar scenario could play out this year.

Wantoch said farmers are entering the growing season with plenty of subsoil moisture, despite the fact that a lot of the snow that fell in February and March ran off when it melted because the ground was completely frozen due to January’s bitter cold and little to no snow.

The waiting game

Wantoch said the biggest challenge this year could be faced by dairy producers who rely on custom applicators to empty their pits and spread manure on fields.

“The dairy guys could be in for a little bigger struggle, waiting for applicators and pits to be pumped so they can can get planting,” he said.

While everyone in farming this time of year has places to go and things to do, Wantoch said, some of those efforts are on hold as some road bans are still in place. Once those are lifted, he said, “that will really get the ball rolling.”

As far as alfalfa winterkill, Wantoch said he’s seeing more injury than kill in the fields so far. He estimates the extent of winterkill at 10 percent to 20 percent and the level of injury at 60 percent to 80 percent.

It’s a good sign, but tonnage definitely will be down this year, he said.

Ben Sand, agronomy manager for Countryside Cooperative in New Richmond, said fertilizer spreading is underway “anywhere soils are light.” He said fieldwork should be about on pace with last year.

“Nobody’s changing maturity on anything yet,” Sand said.

After the festivities concluded on Easter Sunday, the McComish family of Darlington headed out to the fields to kick off the start of corn planting season on their dairy farm. But since then, the family has had to wait after rain fell during the week.

But for the McComishes, “when it’s go time, it’s go time.”

“I know a lot of people in the area have started planting, especially if they have a lot of acres,” Amber McComish said. “When we get those windows of opportunity, we’ll take them.”

Many farmers in southern Wisconsin, particularly southwest Wisconsin, seized a window of opportunity this past week, with Ben Huber of Insight FS commenting that this spring is shaping up to be pretty good for planting, at least in this corner of the state.

“In southwest Wisconsin, in particular, we’re in pretty darn good shape,” Huber said. “These are some of the better early conditions that we’ve had in a while.”

He’s heard farmers are getting a lot of corn into the ground, along with alfalfa. And he’s even heard of a few farmers in the southwest corner of Wisconsin planting soybeans, although it’s still pretty early.

“Soil temperatures are still a little cool across the state in general, but farmers are utilizing good yield and research data to make decisions about planting earlier,” he said. “People are feeling pretty good for the most part in the south.”

However, further north, conditions are a bit different due to higher moisture levels and in some areas, there is still snow on the ground. Some farmers to the north are sure to be jealous of conditions to the south, Huber said.

“We’re right in that sweet spot for planting,” he said. “With it being April 24 and things usually wrapping up around May 10 or 12, we’re at the early end of that range and for most people, it’s pretty good.”{/div}