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Dry conditions evaporating hopes for abundant harvest

Sept. 12, 2013 | 0 comments


As bone-dry conditions persisted across much of Wisconsin last week, soil moisture levels dropped, fields dried up and farmers watched their hopes for an abundant harvest evaporate.

"This dry spell has made a fantastic crop of corn and soybeans just okay. We could really use some rain," the Racine County reporter shared in the Sept. 9 "Wisconsin Crop Progress Report".

The only precipitation received last week was along the Lake Michigan shoreline, the report said. The rest of the state felt little to no rain, with 6.6 days of the seven classified as suitable for fieldwork statewide.

"Rain is desperately needed," the reporter from Buffalo County relayed in the document created with input from a state-wide network of farm reporters and county ag agents.

Some corn silage is being chopped in the county and there is talk of taking soybeans as forage due to drought conditions, he added. "Pastures have seen very little regrowth since mid July. Third crop hay was extremely short."

Moderate drought conditions continued in Pierce County, while corn plants and soybeans were dying from lack of soil moisture in Chippewa County.

Chopping has started on some farms, that reporter said, with moisture levels in the mid-60s on severe drought-damaged corn. Yields were below average.

As the first week of September drew to a close, seven of the nine districts in the state measured topsoil moisture levels over 70 percent short to very short.

The ratings ranged from 94 percent short to very short in the west central district to 27 percent short to very short in the northeast district.

No rain has fallen on Clark County for about two months. "There is no third crop hay in this area. Send us rain," the reporter urged.

Across the state, reporters told of pastures and hay stands going dormant due to the lack of moisture, putting the squeeze on already short feed supplies.

As their corn and soybeans dried up, farmers chopped wilted and unpollinated fields for silage and began taking CRP hay for supplementary feed.

Florence County was among those harvesting corn as green chop feed. Some third crop hay was being cut by farmers short on feed, but the reporter expected that to come to an end soon after a hard frost, which could hit at any time in that area.

"We need the frost to hold off for our corn to mature," he said, noting the "very wide spread" to maturity rates.

In some areas, the report said, soils were getting too dry for fall plantings.

By the dry week’s end, 60 percent of the state’s pastures, 29 percent of corn fields and 27 percent of soybean fields were rated in very poor to poor condition.

Rain is also desperately needed in Buffalo County, while Manitowoc County reported another week of dry weather sent corn plant moisture levels crashing and a likely start of corn silage harvests within the week.

For the week ending Sept. 8 at 7 a.m., total precipitation ranged from nothing in La Crosse and Madison to 0.01 inch in Eau Claire and 0.50 inches in Milwaukee.

The heat continued with average temperatures marked at one-four degrees above normal. Average highs ranged from 77-83 degrees, while average lows ranged from 52-59 degrees.

The state’s corn crop was 76 percent in the dough stage, 38 percent dented and 5 percent mature, compared to five-year averages of 86 percent in dough, 54 percent in dent and 11 percent mature.

Corn silage was 9 percent harvested, compared to 35 percent last year and the five-year average of 17 percent.

Although the hot and dry conditions pushed the crop toward maturity, the report noted, late planted corn still lagged behind normal development.

Corn remained challenged in Kenosha County. "Where corn was muddy going in, it’s now yellow, short, small ears or no ears. Leaves are drying up," the reporter said, adding some area growers were spraying their soybeans for Japanese beetles.

Across the state, soybeans were setting pods to the tune of 94 percent, while 22 percent had leaves turning color. For comparison, the five-year average for Sept 8 was 100 percent setting pods and 39 percent with leaves coloring.

In Rock County, limited rain has had a negative effect on the crop and may cause small beans, the reporter observed. "Some bean plants are already dead and corn is maturing fast, too," he said, adding one bright spot is the drying time to make hay has been shortened.

By Sept. 8, the state’s oat grain harvest was 96 percent complete. In Crawford County, yields for all small grains were described as "fairly respectable".

State farmers had also taken 88 percent of third cutting alfalfa and 22 percent of fourth, compared to the five-year average of 93 percent of third and 40 percent of fourth. The hay was thin and turning brown in many areas, reporters said.

In Richland County, where corn has matured quickly over the past two dry, hot weeks, there are areas that don’t have enough growth for a third crop of alfalfa.

Meanwhile, several farmers in Dane County harvested fourth crop hay that yielded as good as third crop. Waupaca County told of excellent quality third crop hay, although the quantity was low because of the dry weather.

The quality of hay was labeled good in Crawford County, but yields were down and some producers would be taking a fourth cutting.

Although rain several weeks ago helped late-planted crops, the reporter added, the recent hot, dry weather affected all crops. "Most pastures and lawns are pretty brown and I suspect the hot weather caused apples and other fruit crops to have some loss because of trees aborting fruit," he said.

In Kewaunee County, crops continued to do well, although some moisture shortages were detectable in corn planted on sandier soils. "On heavier soils, the corn is looking very good and has not really started changing colors," the reporter relayed.

Alfalfa in the county was growing well and yields are rated "okay", although higher humidity and a lake breeze at the end of the week was not conducive to making quality hay. "That has been the story this year in this area," he said.

It remains to be seen how the growing shortage of rain will affect that county’s corn and soybeans. While it appears there is enough moisture in the soil for yields not to be negatively affected, he commented, that may change as harvest draws closer.

Meanwhile, the potato harvest was in full swing in Portage County.

The weekly "Wisconsin Crop Progress Report" is 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 is compiled at the Wisconsin field office in Madison by state statistician Greg Bussler.

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