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Farmers took advantage of multiple dry days and ample supplies to fertilize fresh-cut alfalfa fields in Northeastern Wisconsin. <br />

Farmers took advantage of multiple dry days and ample supplies to fertilize fresh-cut alfalfa fields in Northeastern Wisconsin.
Photo By Carole Curtis

Spotty rains ride in on damaging heat wave

Aug. 29, 2013 | 0 comments

Wisconsin farmers welcomed rain last week, but for most, the scattered and light pattern of precipitation left them wishing for more.

According to the "Wisconsin Crop Progress Report" released Aug. 26, the moisture received was offset by warmer temperatures, which were above normal statewide for the first time in over a month.

"It is very dry. Crops are burning up. The drought is worse this year than last year," the Fond du Lac County reporter commented in the document created with input from farm reporters and county ag agents across the state.

For the week ending Aug 25 at 7 a.m., average reported temperatures were 1-4 degrees above normal. Average highs ranged from 81-87 degrees, with Eau Claire topping 91 degrees and La Crosse hitting 90. Average lows ranged from 57-64 degrees.

The warmth was a two-edged sword. Crops needed the heat units, but the multiple weeks of unusually dry weather were hammering fields and pastures.

By week's end, 41 percent of pastures were in poor to very poor condition, compared to 29 percent the previous week.

With precipitation totals for the week ranging from a meager 0.11 inches in La Crosse to 1.67 inches in Milwaukee, average topsoil moisture dropped from 59 percent short to very short to 72 percent short to very short. Subsoil moisture was marked at 65 percent short to very short.

In Columbia County, where between 0.1 and 0.5 inches of rain fell last week, soybeans, corn, pastures and hayfields are all stressing from lack of water.

"The topsoil is extremely dry in most areas and the subsoil is very dry," the reporter said. "Fall seeded oats and peas for forage are waiting for enough moisture to germinate."

Green Lake County told of crops suffering from lack of rain and hot temps, as did La Crosse County. "Optimism is waning is far as the crops are concerned," that reporter shared.

Since making hay was so spread out this year, he added, very little fourth cut has been made in the county. "Many farmers are still trying to start third cut hay. However, due to the lack of rain, there is very little in the fields to cut," he said.

Precipitation was also spotty in Walworth County, with some areas receiving 2 inches of rain and other areas a scant 0.2 inches.

Rain finally fell in Chippewa County, but it was too late for some corn and just in time for the rest.

Buffalo County hasn't had measurable rain since Aug. 7. "Pastures are done. We're feeding stored forage," that reporter said, while the Waukesha County reporter observed that area is drier this year than it was last year at this time.

The storms skipped Juneau County, holding rainfall for the month to less than 0.5 inches. The corn and soybeans are maturing with the heat, the reporter said, but rainfall is desperately needed.

"The last few days have been hot and breezy, drying the crops and soil out, and now the hot weather will really cause damage," he added.

Waushara County reported that crops on unirrigated land have basically quit growing. "We received 0.1 inches of rain on Aug. 21, 0.2 inches on Aug. 11, and 0.3 inches on Aug. 6. Not enough to keep crops growing for a whole month," the reporter said. "Some corn has ears hanging down, so that crop is done.

Marathon County received an inch of needed rain on Wednesday, while Florence County got 0.75 inches. "Most of that was runoff - half an hour downpour," that reporter commented. "We haven't had a good all-day rain in a long time and we could use one."

As crops continue to lag behind normal development across the board, the gap in development between early and late plantings remained wide, the report said.

Adequate precipitation and a late frost will be needed to allow corn, soybeans and forage crops enough time to mature.

Crops were going backwards in Dane County until 1.6 inches of rain fell in the beginning of the week. "It was a good rain, in that all of it went in the ground," the reporter said. "Fourth crop hay grew about one foot in two days of rain."

Fruits and veggies are also doing very good now, he added. "The rain makes the difference."

Corn and alfalfa were holding their own in dry Rusk County, but pastures and soybeans were really suffering. Soybean aphids are a problem, prompting lots of spraying, the reporter shared.

The second last week of August offered 6.3 days suitable for fieldwork. That allowed farmers to polish off 67 percent of third cutting and 3 percent of fourth cutting, compared to the five-year averages of 76 percent for third and 15 percent for fourth.

Last year, farmers had 43 percent of fourth cutting in the barn by Aug. 25.

But hay stands were showing poor regrowth due to the dry conditions.

Chippewa County reported very low yields on third crop hay, while second crop hay was half of what it should have been. "It started out well, but then the combination of cold weather with little rain hurt the crop," the reporter observed.

By Sunday morning, 94 percent of the state's corn crop was silking, 40 percent was in dough stage and 5 percent was denting. For comparison, the five-year averages stood at 99 percent silked, 64 percent in dough and 22 percent dented.

In some areas, farmers were starting to chop unpollinated or wilting corn for silage.

Soybeans were 91 percent blooming and 75 percent setting pods, compared to the five-year averages of 98 percent blooming and 91 percent setting pods.

The winter wheat harvest was about done, with variable yields reported due to this year's adverse conditions.

Nearly 80 percent of the oat crop had been harvested for grain, with average to good yields reported for both grain and straw.

Rusk County reported good yields and test weights and lots of straw, while Marathon County reported "adequate" quality and quantity for its small grain harvest.

In Buffalo County, the oat harvest was better than expected, but the straw was short. Hay and straw are in short supply, the reporter noted.

The tobacco harvest was wrapping up in Dane County, with a short, high quality crop reported and good wilt on most.

Snap beans were being harvested in Portage and Door counties, with above average yields reported; and apple trees were loaded with fruit in Shawano County and ripening in Washburn 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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