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.”
After two of his former students — Ram Seibel, and his son, Jeremy — were killed in a farm accident, retired Bloomer agriculture instructor Merle Richter wanted to honor the father and son and bring awareness to safe farming practices.
In 2017, Richter and Ann Seibel, Ram’s wife and Jeremy’s mother, organized a 35-mile bicycle ride, the Tour de Farm Safety, that made stops on Bloomer-area farms and focused on safety precautions taken on the farms.
After a year off, the Tour de Farm Safety returns Saturday, June 29, with stops at four area farms not visited during the first ride.
“They’ve got some neat things and stops planned again this year to raise money for farm safety and scholarships,” said WAXX/WAYY Radio Farm Director Bob Bosold, who will be on hand to kick off the ride from Pines Ballroom in Bloomer.
On July 2, 2015, Ram and Jeremy Seibel were killed in a farm accident in a manure-confinement system on the family’s farm. Ram called his brother and farming partner, Ron Seibel, to look after the cows while Ram went into the pit after a piece of equipment that had fallen off. While in the pit, Ram was overcome by the gas build-up. Jeremy tried to come to his father’s rescue but was killed too.
About a year after the accident, Richter approached Ann Seibel about doing something to honor the memory of Ram and Jeremy.
After dedicating his ride at the 2016 Ride to Farm in southern Wisconsin to the two men, Ann and Merle came up with the idea of creating a bicycle ride around Bloomer that focuses on farm safety.
“Ann’s just phenomenal,” Richter said. “She’s the real impetus for this thing. They’re an amazing family.”
Proceeds from the ride will go to the UW-Madison Farm and Industry Short Course’s Ram and Jeremy Seibel Scholarship fund and to a Bloomer FFA scholarship. Jeremy was a graduate of the short course.
“There’s got to be something good that comes out of this,” Ann said before the first Tour de Farm Safety in 2017. “We’ve got to do something that can help save other people.”
Riders will leave on the 35-mile route from Pines Ballroom, 9690 County Hwy SS, Bloomer, at 8:30 a.m., June 29, and make the 6-mile trip to Jon and Wendy Schmidt’s Woodmohr Jerseys, where they will have a safety demonstration and farm tour from about 9:15 to 9:45 a.m.
The Schmidts’ raise and show Jersey cattle and graze and milk about 40 cows. Chippewa County UW-Extension Agriculture Agent Jerry Clark will lead a demonstration about manure and enclosed-space safety while the riders recover with strawberries and ice cream on the farm.
“It wouldn’t be our ride if we didn’t have some type of dairy treat,” Richter said.
From Woodmohr Jerseys, riders head out for about 7 miles to Cathy and Randy Feuling’s CR Vineyards on a leg that includes a trip up Bunker Hill. The Feulings have about 50 acres of grape vines on their Chippewa County farm. The safety demonstration on the farm, which runs from 11 to 11:30 a.m., will focus on ergonomics, Richter said.
“That’s probably the most strenuous leg of the ride,” Richter said. “Bunker Hill is a nice, little hill in this neck of the woods. We’ll have somebody on top of the hill and give a little pin if they make it all the way up, saying ‘I conquered Bunker Hill.’
“We may have to have defibrillators there too.”
From there, riders head 7 miles to Klinger Farm Market, where they’ll stop from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m. Klinger has about 1,200 acres of crops to go along with the market and 18 greenhouses. Klingers’ farm started as a dairy in 1903, and Richter said he remembered it as a mink ranch from when he started teaching in Bloomer about 40 years ago.
“It’s a neat niche they fit into,” Richter said. “We thought that would be a really unique stop.”
The longest leg of the ride will take bicyclists 11 miles to Don and Liz Mayer’s Mayer Lane Holsteins. The Mayers farm on about 6 acres and milk about 70 Holstein cows, Richter said.
“There are a lot of great genetics in the herd. It’s a beautiful farm,” Richter said. “We haven’t got the traditional farm on the ride, but we’ve got a couple unique, little farms.”
The stop at Mayer Lane Holsteins lasts from 2 to 2:30 and includes root beer floats and a visit from Wisconsin’s 72nd Alice in Dairyland, Abigail Martin.
The ride wraps up about 4 miles later back at Pines Ballroom for a 4 p.m. charcoal chicken dinner.
Nearly 200 riders took part in the first Tour de Farm Safety, and Richter said he is hoping for a similar turnout this time around. As of early June, there were about 100 riders and another 100 non-riders just hoping to make the farm visits registered.
“This has been such a funny year,” Richter said. “We had no spring, when people are usually out riding. A lot of people have said they haven’t even gotten their bikes down yet.”
Richter said anyone interested in learning more about the event should contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 715-579-7288. Registration materials are available on the website, https://foreverinourfields.com, and at the Bloomer Area Aquatic and Recreation Center.
“It was such a great success two years ago,” Richter said. “What we always overlook about a bike ride is how nice it is to chat with people while you’re out on the road.”
PRAIRIE DU SAC — Thanks to the generosity of numerous donors, businesses and organizations, Ferry Bluff State Natural Area now has an additional 31 acres to provide continued sanctuary for the area’s tremendous bald eagle population.
Members of Groundswell Conservancy, Madison, and Ferry Bluff Eagle Council, Sauk City, along with members of the community, recently celebrated the addition with a program on the newly acquired land along the Wisconsin River, located on Huerth Road on the south side of Ferry Bluff.
“Some of the biggest roosts are on this land,” said Jim Welsh, executive director of Groundswell Conservancy. “We worked together to keep it as open space to allow the eagles to feel confident roosting there for years to come.”
About two years ago, the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council was approached by the community about a piece of property for sale between two designated state natural areas. The property was owned by a former Ferry Bluff Eagle Council member, and he gave Gene Unger, president of the council, the opportunity for the council to raise funds to purchase it.
Teaming up with Groundswell Conservancy, the organizations applied for a grant from the State of Wisconsin Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, created in 1989 to preserve valuable natural areas and wildlife habitat. The organizations were awarded $85,000 through the grant, half of what was needed to purchase the 31-acre property.
Unger wasn’t sure what kind of reception he’d get from the community when it came to fundraising the remaining $85,000; however, he was pleasantly surprised when individuals, businesses and organizations came together to raise the rest over a five-month period. Seventy-five donors gave to the cause, with the names of large donors etched onto a plaque erected on the new property.
Ferry Bluff is a pivotal base for bald eagles, with the dam at Prairie du Sac keeping the river ice-free while the remainder of the Wisconsin River is frozen, providing food opportunities for the eagles during winter roosting. Several viewing areas have been established in the Sauk Prairie area, with the Overlook in Prairie du Sac serving as one of the best areas for visitors to view bald eagles.
Unger gives credit to the community for taking ownership of the bald eagles that roost near their town.
“The area is now protected as a state natural area,” Unger said. “Adding this land frees it up from the pressure of development, protecting it forever for the birds that live here.”
Just a short commute from Madison, Unger predicts the Sauk Prairie area will become a bedroom community in the next 20 to 30 years, which is why it’s even more important for the council to make sure the current eagle roosting land is preserved.
“We have a big number of eagles there and the eagles are a success story,” he said. “I’m happy to participate and make this happen, serving as a connection between nature and the public.”
The land, jointly purchased by the two organizations, will be donated to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which owns and cares for the state’s designated natural areas. The department has talked about adding a small parking area on the south side of the property and general hiking trails may also be added to enhance the area in the future. Some farmland included on the 31-acre parcel may also be planted back to native prairie, and trees may be planted in open areas, Unger said.
With more than 20 years of data from the eagles roosting in the Sauk Prairie area, the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council continues its mission to protect, maintain and enhance bald eagle habitat through education, research and management activities, including its popular Bald Eagle Watching Days, held each winter.
“We’ll continue to work to preserve land in the right places for the right reasons,” Unger said.