Wet weather slowing down farmers in Wisconsin

Unusually soggy weather has been a drag on Wisconsin agricultural production.

“Basically, the spring was cool and wet, so farmers were delayed at getting crops in the field,” said Greg Bussler, state statistician for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service office in Wisconsin.

He says the wet conditions throughout the growing season turns out to be too much of a good thing, as frequent showers and high moisture levels can change the quality of the soil for the worse.

“In some cases, the soil becomes hard, crusted due to wetness when it dries out,” he said. “When this happens at planting, some seeds can’t sprout up above the ground, so some farmers had to replant.”

The spring was challenging for farmers because it started out cold during planting season, then the state saw a burst of warm weather which drove hay crops to mature overly quickly, according to Kathy Schmidt, director of the Wisconsin Farm Center at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

“Farmers were trying to finish planting while hay was ready to be harvested — there’s a shortage of labor then; you’re split,” Schmidt explained. “Since the hay was ready to harvest earlier than expected, and planting season took longer than is typical, that created a squeeze.”

The USDA weekly reports on the progress and condition of Wisconsin crops shows farmers have been struggling to carry on with business as usual.

These reports show that there have been fewer days suitable for fieldwork so far in 2017 than at this point in 2016. For 2016, there had been about 60 suitable days by July 2; this year, that number has yet to break 50.

For the period ending June 26, the report notes “drowned-out” areas scattered around the state as well as corn yellowing in low-land areas. This yellowing process, signaling nitrogen deficiencies in corn plants, is another issue stemming from the wet conditions, Bussler said.

When the soil is cool and damp, corn can have a hard time absorbing this nutrient from the soil. The June 26 report also notes that nitrogen and herbicide applications were prevented in several areas because of muddy conditions.

When warmer weather arrives, the plants will likely green up and grow normally, according to an article from the University of Vermont’s plant and soil science department.

At the end of May, the USDA report shows that wet soils and frequent rain had been slowing the spring cultivation.

“Also, downpours, heavy rain and thunderstorms have been tough on crops,” Bussler said, noting that these weather events can wash certain areas out and cause pooling of water in fields.

The USDA report for the week of June 19 notes that wind, hail and heavy downpours caused damage to crops and farm buildings. Rain disrupted work on the first cutting of hay and the last of the spring planting, according to the report.

Earlier in May, severe weather had held producers back from planting, as severe thunderstorms hit all over the state. Northern Wisconsin was hit hardest, the report says, with up to a foot of rainfall noted in some parts of the state.

Flooding, strong winds and hail damaged fields and buildings used by farmers, and the report said that warm, dry weather would help to drain the “saturated fields.”

A more recent report from late June echoed that, saying heat and dry weather are “needed” to improve crop growth and allow work in the fields mid-season.

Schmidt said for production conditions to improve, a little stability would go a long way. She emphasized the importance of balance between rain and sunshine, and having more consistent weather patterns.

“We’re at the mercy of Mother Nature,” she added.

–By Alex Moe