Cool, wet weather delays maturity for local crops

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

It’s getting to be a nail-biter for many producers who are wondering if corn and soybeans will have time to mature and dry before the first killing frost.

Two separate but related things are impeding crop growth in south central Wisconsin: rain and cool weather.

Rainfall has been scattered around Rock County, UW Extension crops agent Jim Stute said.

“On the west side of the county, they’ve had better rainfall distribution,” Stute said. “On the eastern half, they went through a dry spell, and the crops just stalled out.”

Janesville got 7.2 inches of rain in August compared to average August rainfall of 4 inches, according to Gazette records.

Year to date, rainfall is 2.11 inches above normal in the Madison area, which is the closest reporting station monitored by the Wisconsin Field Office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agriculture Statistics Survey.

The damp weather has helped breed plant diseases such as late blight, which threatens Wisconsin potato and tomato crops.

Soybean farmers are on the lookout for white mold, which causes beans to topple and prevents farmers from harvesting the beans, Stute said.

Stute hasn’t seen white mold on Rock County soybeans, but it’s been a problem for growers in southwestern Wisconsin, he said.

Given a choice, produce grower Bryan Meyer of Meyer’s Farm Market, 1329 E. Townline Road, Milton, prefers dry weather over wet. People tend to shake their heads when he voices that opinion, he said.

“In dry weather, you have one problem. That’s moisture. In wet weather, you have to deal with mildews, diseases and other problems,” he said.

Think of the bathroom towel crumpled on the floor, Meyer said.

“If it doesn’t dry, you’re going to have more bacteria, and you’re going to want a new towel every day,” Meyer said. “If you hang that up to dry, you’re going to have less problems and the towel will stay cleaner.

In addition, more rain typically means cooler weather, Meyer said. When the days are rainy, the sun obviously isn’t shining to heat up plants and soil.

Farmers and statisticians use a measurement called “growing degree days” to measure the amount of heat accumulated during a growing season.

Basically, the formula takes into account the fact that little growth happens on days when temperatures are below 50 degrees, Stute said.

June, July and August degree days have been well below average.

The Madison recording station typically reports 872 degree days in August alone. This year, the number of degree days in August added up to only 571, according to the Wisconsin Department of Administration Division of Energy Statistics.

According to that same data, degree days in Madison in June and July only added up to 63 percent and 61 percent of average.

Typical corn hybrids planted in Rock County need 2,260 degree days to mature, Stute said. That’s not a problem in an average year, when southern Wisconsin accumulates about 2,500 degree days in June, July in August.

This year, however, the three-month total was only 1,586.

Stute said he can see the difference in area fields. Typically, corn pollinates the third week in July, but it was two or three weeks behind this year, he said. Late planting and a lack of heat contributed to late pollination, Stute said.

Once corn pollinates, it typically needs 50 calendar days to ripen, Stute said.

But the cool weather has been making many farmers worry about an early frost, which would hinder corn maturity.

“The race is on,” Stute said.

Local farmers typically expect a killing frost around Oct. 10.

But things could look up, Stute said. Local farmers worked through a similar season in 2004. That year, the summer was cool, but a warm fall saved grain yields, he said.

Meyer said produce yields so far have been good for him, although crops have been late in maturing.

Joe Skelly agreed. He and his family grow produce south of Janesville at Skelly’s Farm Market, 2713 S. Hayner Road.

The weather hasn’t affected yields, but crops have been coming out of the fields later than usual, Skelly said. As long as the frost holds off, they’ll be fine, he said.

And if the frost doesn’t hold off? Well, there’s not a lot anybody can do about it, Skelly said.

“You can worry and worry, but that’s about it.”

Last updated: 11:35 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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