After three consecutive years of near record-breaking harvests, corn and soybean production could take a hit this fall after a cool, wet spring that doesn’t seem to end.
The substandard weather is keeping farmers out of their fields. A shortened growing season could stunt crop development and weaken the final product. And more farmers might leave some fields empty and take an insurance payment instead.
This has been Wisconsin’s coolest, wettest spring of the past 30 years—an undesirable status that also applies to much of the Upper Midwest, said Nick Baker, the UW Extension agriculture agent for Rock County.
Baker doesn’t know if those adjectives apply in Rock County. The county actually has fared better than the Racine/Kenosha area and parts of Illinois thanks to good weather early on, but it’s still two or three weeks behind schedule, he said.
The rain’s consistency has been the worst part. Since April 23, Gazette weather records indicate that rain has fallen in Janesville on 28 of 51 days.
After it rains, farmers typically need about three dry days in a row before field conditions are adequate again.
Even those have been hard to find. It has only happened twice since April 23—six dry days from May 10 to 15 and another six straight from June 6 to 11.
Trying to plant in a field that is to wet is not advisable. It can hurt seed development or trap a planter in the mud, Baker said.
The weather hasn’t been warm, either, leaving crops behind on heat units. Heat units are a measure of sunlight and heat needed for full crop growth, he said.
More farmers might choose to do prevent planting. They agree to not plant a particular field—forgoing higher potential revenue—in favor of a safety net payment to ensure they get something.
Prevent planting can be done if at least 20% of a farmer’s acres are too wet to plant by a certain date. In that case, the federal government can cut farmers a check for 55% of their insured value for corn or 60% for soybeans, Baker said.
The initial deadline for corn planting is May 31, while the soybean deadline is Saturday. Both crops also have late deadlines with lower insurance payouts.
“The problem we run into is the growing season starts getting so short,” Baker said. “In Wisconsin, the university recommends after May 10, it’s really too late to get grain production on corn, even on short-day variety. We really don’t have much growing season left.”
It’s uncertain how many area farmers have decided to prevent plant this year rather than plant in muddy fields in a short season. The Rock and Walworth Farm Service Agency offices directed questions to a state office, which did not provide numbers.
A man who answered the phone at the Walworth office said he had no time to talk about prevent planting because he was too busy processing prevent plant paperwork.
Baker said farmers who have already sprayed fertilizer on their fields might be more likely to take a chance on planting because they have already accrued field expenses.
Others who have waited to do any preparation might prefer to do prevent plant, he said.
It’s too early to tell if the spring weather will derail the fall harvest. But local farmers will need a late frost and warm weather well into October to make sure crops reach full maturity, Baker said.