Area farmers struggle to plant fields

May much colder, wetter than last year, causing delays

Photo by David Wilhelms Pausing to check his equipment, a farmer in the Town of Richmond continues planting Tuesday before the next rainstorm closes in. Farmers in northeastern Wisconsin have had to deal with record cold and precipitation this spring to get their crops planted.

If you’re wondering if May was colder and wetter than last year, ask anyone involved in farming.

Jeff Strassburg, Wittenberg area farmer and chair of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, noted he's found, "When the going gets good, it seems Mother Nature has other ideas." He noted he still needs to plant "a couple of hundred acres" of his 3,500 devoted to corn, soybeans, alfalfa and oats. "I think we're on 'Plan 5' on deciding what to plant where," Strassburg added with a laugh before echoing, "It's been a little frustrating but we have to deal with what's been dealt."

“It has been a cold and wet spring this year,” said Kimberly Kassube, Shawano County Extension educator. “At the end of May, over half the corn acres had not yet been planted in the state. In the beginning of June, a lot has gotten done. But farmers are still planting, and they have had to shift their focus to taking the first crop of hay off the fields as well. Some producers, due to the winterkill, were exploring forage alternatives as well as purchasing some hay. Forage inventories are short across the county and the state.”

Strassburg is among those struggling with winterkill in his forage acreage, putting his first cutting at about 30% less than what he usually gets.

“‘Normal’ doesn’t even enter into the conversation. I’ve never seen so little planted by this time of year,” said Scott Reuss, extension agent for crops, soils and horticulture for Oconto and Marinette counties. “There isn’t a farm in our region that hasn’t had a stressful spring.” The University of Wisconsin Experimental Farm in Marshfield noted that this May was one of the two coldest on record.
“I’ve been talking to people who have nothing in the ground,” said Wes Raddatz, District 7 Coordinator for the state Farm Bureau. He noted his district covers most of northeastern Wisconsin. “Generally, I’m hearing 30 to 40% is unplanted.” He’s even heard from farmers that they won’t or can’t plant at all and might need to rely on insurance.

Reuss put the delay in planting at four to five weeks. He pointed out that alfalfa and small grain planting is normally complete by the first week of May but has yet to reach that mark in 2019. The first crop of hay is likewise behind about 10 days.

Planting this year is even more dependent on soil types and drainage, Raddatz and Reuss agreed, saying that lighter, sandier soils become available for planting before soils with high clay content. “It’s highly variable, but we are definitely significantly behind,” Reuss said. He said he thought planting was at roughly 75% of normal levels in his counties. Reuss added the acres of soybeans being planted was the lowest in his memory, but that could be attributed to prices that are currently below the cost of production.

The Pulaski area has very little in the ground, Reuss said. Further north, “they’re pretty much done, but they were behind as well,” Reuss said.

Raddatz noted the same thing in the Antigo area where soils are sandier “and they’re much further along. They were just finishing up (corn and soybeans) last week.” Echoing Kassube’s concern with winterkill in forages, Raddatz said almost everyone experiences some level of winterkill. “I’m thinking that forage will be short this year, but who knows? The weather will hold the key as the summer progresses.”

Even when in the ground, the obstacles to a crop remain. Reuss noted that many seeds were slow in emerging due to the cold weather.

“The screwball thing is we have a potential of having a productive year — not a great year, but productive if we get optimal weather,” Reuss said. He added that plants don’t put down deep roots when they are planted in wet conditions, thus making them vulnerable to any stretch of drought this summer.

Strassburg, spring, planting, corn, soybeans, wet, rain, record, delay