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Burning interest in conservation

Above: Erike Fredberg of Prairie Restorations sprays accelerant on the banks of Little Niagara Creek during a controlled burn Sunday on the UW-Eau Claire campus. A UW-Eau Claire conservation biology class assisted with the effort. The burn is designed to help kill off invasive species and allow prairie species to thrive as they start growing this spring. A blackened area will be noticeable along the creek until native plant growth occurs.

Right: LeAna Bender of Prairie Restorations watches the fire line, standing ready with water, during the controlled burn Sunday on the UW-Eau Claire campus.

Waiting game
Ready to roll: Farmers eager to hit the fields for spring work
Farmers eager to hit the fields for spring work

With snow and frost disappearing quickly, 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, tillage and early planting are all starting, but conditions are difficult in many regions, including west-central Wisconsin.

“I’m sure there will be some people getting out in the next couple days, depending on what the weather does,” said Richard Halopka, agricultural educator for UW-Extension of Clark County. “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.”

Farmers with sandy ground expected to be in the fields by the end of last week, Wantoch said, 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 and May 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.”

About 80 percent of the corn crop was planted within about a 10-day period last year, Wantoch said, 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

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.