Planting for farmers delayed because of frozen ground, flood risk normal in Janesville

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Andrea Anderson
Monday, March 31, 2014

JANESVILLE— Sunday's sunshine and warmer weather make the lower winter temperatures feel like a distant memory, but for local farmers winter is far from a memory and is putting a dent in plans.

The frozen ground is delaying local farmers' planting schedule.

Farmers have to wait until the ground is thawed and dry enough to get on the fields to prepare for planting. They also are unable to plant crops when the soil is too cold or too wet.

Doug Rebout, a local farmer, is normally out working the fields this time of year to prepare for the first day of planting on April 15. Because of this year's frozen ground he's not. 

Instead, he's waiting for the ground to warm up and for the soil to dry out.

“It's not like we go out and measure the temperature or anything, it's just more of an instinct,” Rebout said.

Rebout plants 2,600 acres of corn, 1,000 acres of soybeans, 150 acres of winter wheat and a couple hundred acres of hay.

He won't be planting by April 15 and doesn't have an exact date when he will begin.

“Mother nature is your main thing that tells us when we can and can't go,” Rebout said.

Last year planting began April 28.

Once crops are planted it doesn't mean it's smooth sailing. There could be heavy rain, droughts or other conditions that delay harvest.

Rebout is waiting patiently and he hopes others will, too.

“Once we get going we're going to be putting in a lot of long hours, we hope people are patient with us on the roads,” Rebout said.

The winter that would never end, and still hasn't for some, could have been a blessing in disguise.

As spring approached, the weather was warmer one day and colder the next, allowing for a gradual snow and ice melt and leading to a gradual rise in Rock River water levels.

These are ideal conditions to keep the risk of flooding as low as possible, said J.J. Wood,  National Weather Service meteorologist.

“You want it to be a gradual melt,” Wood said. “Then if you do have runoff, it's not going to raise the level of the river too much.”

Certain parts of the Rock River have a 50 percent chance of flooding by June, according to the river's forecast completed by the National Weather Service.

The forecast depends on precipitation, snow melt and soil conditions.

The forecast is normal, Wood said.

According to measurements, the river's water level in Afton is up 6.7 feet from about 4 feet at the beginning of the month, Wood said. The flood stage, or the point where water begins to flood roads or reach homes, is 9 feet.

“Right now I would say it's in a normal type of range for this time of the year, it's nothing unusual,” Wood said.

For the river to exceed flood stage at least once or twice by June is not out of the question, unless there was a drought, Wood said.

Ground temperature also contributes to flooding.

If large amounts of rain fall and the ground remains frozen or does not thaw enough, the majority of that rain will not be absorbed by the soil and will end up in the river, increasing water levels.

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