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Wisconsin’s 2012 crop year in review

Dec. 21, 2012 | 0 comments


Drought and blistering heat made big headlines throughout the 2012 crop year.

According to the "Wisconsin Crop Progress" annual review released Dec. 11, the crop year was unusual from start to finish.

It began with a winter much warmer than normal, followed by March temperatures that shot 14-16 degrees above average and sparked early growth in fruit trees, pastures and hayfields.

April featured multiple frosts that damaged apples, cherries and other fruit crops in bud. However, the thawed ground allowed tillage and planting to kick off several weeks early.

May brought heavy rains, as well as a record early start to haying.

Temperatures rode above normal throughout June, dropping moisture levels statewide as drought conditions set in across the southern parts of the state. The Madison weather station marked the driest June ever recorded with a mere 0.35 inches of total precipitation.

July rolled out a record-breaking heat wave that exacerbated dry conditions. On July 15, the report noted, soil moistures were 82 percent short to very short statewide and topped 90 percent very short in the south-central and southeast districts.

Rain finally fell at the end of July and beginning of August, but the pattern remained patchy and light throughout August and September.

Crop conditions varied widely as the drought spread northward.

The heat and moisture stress pushed crops into early maturity well before the first widespread frost of the year hit toward the end of September. As field conditions remained dry, harvests progressed quickly throughout October.

On Oct. 7, drought conditions peaked a second time. Six of the state’s nine districts reported soil moistures at 90 percent or more short to very short.

The extreme dryness hampered fall tillage and crop emergence, which was rated poor until late October and early November when widespread rains and warm days improved conditions.

Despite the rains, the early harvests allowed tillage to clip along at a record pace. By Nov. 11, the report marked tillage at 72 percent complete, a full 20 percentage points above the five-year average.

Breaking down statewide temperatures by month, the report put June to September two degrees above normal, compared to one degree above normal in 2011. September had slightly below normal temperatures, averaging 0.4 degrees below normal. April through August had above normal temperatures, with July averaging 5.6 degrees above normal.

The month with the greatest departure from normal was March, which averaged 15.3 degrees above normal.

It was no surprise that precipitation totals for April through September were marked below normal, with the statewide total of 17.73 inches. This was 3.66 inches below the total for 2011 and 4.60 inches below normal, the report said.

In the northern third of the state, total precipitation was 2.89 inches below normal for April through September. The central third of the state was 4.33 inches below normal, while the southern third of the state was 8.16 inches alone normal precipitation. Statewide, May was the only month this season with above normal precipitation, the report noted.

Oats get early start

Oat growers got an extremely early start in 2011, as many started seeding in mid-March. By April 8, 26 percent of the state’s oat crop had reportedly been planted, 18 percentage points above normal. Throughout April and May, planting and emergence ran well ahead of normal.

By May 27, 97 percent of the crop had emerged with 73 percent rated in good to excellent condition statewide. Throughout June, oat heading progressed quickly.

The harvest began in early July and wrapped up Aug. 19 when 97 percent to been harvested, compared to the five-year average of 78 percent.

Although the drought had a smaller impact on the condition of oats than on other crops, the report said, yields in southern Wisconsin varied widely due to inadequate and patchy precipitation. Numerous producers double-cropped oats for fall forage.


Corn needed rain

In Wisconsin’s corn fields, the warm winter allowed farmers to begin planting in mid April, but heavy rains in May damaged planted fields in central portions of the state and soil crusting hampered emergence.

Throughout May and early June, corn planting, emergence and height progressed well ahead of average. By mid-June, however, corn in southern Wisconsin was beginning to show signs of moisture stress as the drought set in.

The months of patchy precipitation produced wide variations in corn condition and maturity across the state. The report said corn conditions hovered around 40 percent poor to very poor statewide for most of the season. In the driest areas, corn tasseled without producing silks, so farmers began chopping silage as early as mid-July.

Corn moved through stages of maturity well ahead of normal, drying down enough for the grain harvest to begin in mid-September, about one week early. In some areas, the harvest was hampered by weak stalks and ears dropping due to drought conditions.

The silage harvest also rumbled along well ahead of average. By Oct. 7, 99 percent of the state’s silage crop had been harvested, 16 percentage points above the five-year average.

The harvest of corn for grain finished up two weeks earlier than usual. On Nov. 11, it was 94 percent complete, 25 percentage points above the five-year average.

Throughout southern Wisconsin, where drought conditions began earlier in the season, yield reports are typically poor. Northern Wisconsin reported near-normal yields, thanks to timely precipitation. More corn stalks were harvested and bailed than usual, reporters noted, as farmers sought to supplement short feed supplies.

Soybean yields Variable

In the state’s soybean fields, planting and development were consistently above average, the report summarized. Ninety-eight percent of the crop had been planted by June 10, five percentage points above average, and 83 percent of soybeans had emerged, 11 percentage points above average. Statewide, 67 percent of the crop was rated in good to excellent condition.

The condition of soybeans began to deteriorate as drought set in across southern Wisconsin. In some areas, growth and development of soybeans halted in early July due to the lack of moisture, the report said, causing pod set in the north to exceed that of in the south.

On July 23, 27 percent of soybeans were setting pods across the three northern districts, while the average was only 14 percent across the other six districts. This pattern persisted throughout the rest of the season, the report noted, as soybeans in the south and central portions of the state contended with moisture shortages, weeds and insect pressure.

When rain fell in August, the crop bounced back. By Aug. 19, two percent of soybean leaves had turned, matching the average. However, drought conditions forced the soybeans to dry down rapidly, kicking harvest off about a week earlier than normal.

Across the state, yields were highly variable, depending on the moisture received. Some reporters noted that pod and bean shatter was a major problem during combining. On Oct. 21, the harvest wrapped up with 94 percent harvested, 32 percentage points above the five-year average

Hay shortage

Hay stands across Wisconsin came out of dormancy early in response to the unusual heat in March. Lack of snow cover and freezing in April caused minor damage in some areas, the report said, with winter freeze damage reported on May 13 as 92 percent none to light statewide.

The early growth propelled 2012 to a record-breaking early haying season, the report said, with all four cuttings running one to three weeks earlier than average.

In early June, as second cutting was wrapping up and third cutting was beginning, drought and high insect pressure combined for low yields and poor quality across affected areas. For some growers, regrowth stalled completely.

In August, rains helped perk up hay stands where it fell. The second dry spell of April provided good haying conditions.

On Sept. 30, fourth crop cutting was marked at 95 percent complete, a full 30 percentage points above the five-year average.

In northern Wisconsin, the earliness of the harvests allowed more cuttings than typical and an unusually high number of growers were able to take a fifth cutting. In spite of this, the report said, low yields and poor pasture conditions throughout the season led to feed shortages.

On Nov. 4, Wisconsin’s hay and roughage supplies were marked 50 percent short, 44 percent adequate and six percent surplus.

Wisconsin pastures started the season in good condition, but the drought proved tough on pastureland and livestock alike, the report noted. In the wake of early July’s heat wave, average pasture conditions were rated 66 percent poor to very poor.

Conditions improved slightly, then fell again. On Oct. 14, 78 percent of pastures were in poor to very poor condition. There were widespread reports of livestock producers in the southern and central portions of the state feeding herds this year’s hay and grain when dried-out pastures could no longer provide, the report said.

The report was a cooperative effort of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, and the National Weather Service. It was prepared at the Wisconsin field office by Robert Battaglia, director, Mike Laird, research analyst, and Adrien Joyner, statistical assistant.

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