The soils that produce a bounty of food in this corner of the nation’s breadbasket are very dry.
But it’s not a drought, at least not yet.
“We sure could use the rain,” said Randy Hughes of W. Hughes Farms, which grow a variety of field crops in the Janesville area, including the corn that goes into its Blue Farm brand of blue corn chips.
There is enough moisture in the soil—some of it from a fairly snowy winter—to get crops started, said Scott Skelly of Skelly Farm Markets, a fruit and vegetable farm just outside Janesville.
Hughes said his workers have had to adjust their planters to place the seed deeper, where soil is moister.
Crops are fine for the moment, the farmers said, but the question is what happens next.
Much of southern Wisconsin is “abnormally dry,” according to the United States Drought Monitor.
The drought monitor’s assessment was released last Thursday, April 21. A new national drought map will be released today. A spokesman for the drought monitor declined to say Wednesday what it might reveal.
Cameron Miller, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sullivan, said the lack of a soaking rain and recent warm weather could lead to drought here.
But a dry April is not all bad.
“It’s good for planting. I know a lot of farmers are getting a lot in right now because they’re not dealing with a lot of rain,” Skelly said.
“It’s been nice to get the field work done without fighting the mud,” Hughes said.
Working the soil when it’s wet can make it form hard clumps, which are less hospitable to seedlings, Hughes said.
Rain for April 1 through 28 totaled 2.3 inches, according to Janesville Wastewater Treatment Plant records. Compare that to Janesville’s average April rainfall since 1948: 3.4 inches.
No measurable rain fell in the past 10 days.
“It’s entirely possible” the next drought map could include southern Wisconsin, Miller said.
The drought monitor rates dryness starting with “abnormally dry,” followed by moderate, severe, extreme and exceptional drought. Kenosha County and southern Racine County are already in moderate drought.
Skelly said the 10-day outlook is not highly promising.
“Some rain would be nice. … Your seeds go in the soil, and it’s not like they’re going to die, but it needs moisture to kick it off,” he said.
Heavier rains will be needed when seedlings start their growth spurt later.
Miller said Wednesday the forecast called for a slight chance of rain along the Illinois border Wednesday night and scattered showers Thursday. Then it’s dry until Sunday or Monday.
There were chances of rain Tuesday into Wednesday, too, but it didn’t happen.
The weeks ahead appear to hold greater chances for rain, Miller said, “but in the short term here, we are still very much in some dry conditions.”
Hughes said rain is all about the timing, which differs for each crop, the kind of soil, when it was planted and temperatures.
“Nothing competes with getting a 1-inch rain right after you’ve planted it,” Hughes said.
April has seen only two days so far with that kind of rain, both early in the month.
Dry springs always raise the fear of a dry growing season, something the area hasn’t had for some time, Hughes said.
“Maybe this will be the year. The market seems to think so,” Hughes said, referring to corn prices, which tend to rise when crops are threatened.
For farmers, if it’s not one thing, it’s another: too warm, too cool, too wet, too dry, too soon or too late, Hughes said.
“That’s why farmers are crabby all the time,” he said jokingly.