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Wisconsin is the place to farm

Wisconsin is the place to farm
Warmer weather and improved management practices will help make Wisconsin the best place to grow corn in the future.

It isn’t often that we get to see what the future holds, but Extension agents Jerry Clark from Chippewa County and Jamie Patton from Shawano County provide readers a glimpse into the future with their discussion (also on pages 6 and 7 in the November issue of Wisconsin Agriculturist) about what we can expect in the next 30 to 40 years in terms of corn yields in Wisconsin.

Thanks to warmer weather, improved management practices and better genetics, Patton and Clark predict Wisconsin will become the heart of the Corn Belt by 2046.

HIGHER YIELDS: Warmer weather is having a positive impact on corn yields in Wisconsin.

I am 57 years old. Thirty years from now, I may not be here, and if I am, at age 87, I may not care that Wisconsin’s average corn yields are likely to surpass corn yields in Iowa and Illinois. But now, I find the prospects fascinating to contemplate.

I’ve already seen a lot of improvement in Wisconsin’s agriculture. I moved from northern Illinois to Wisconsin nearly 40 years ago, and I’ve lived in Brandon in western Fond du Lac County for the past 30 years. When I arrived in Brandon, the county average corn yield was 115 bushels per acre. Today, the county average yield is 178 bushels per acre, and many area farmers routinely get yields of 220 to 230 bushels per acre or more, especially in exceptionally good growing years like 2010, 2011, 2015 and, of course, this year.

Since I moved to Brandon, the growing season has lengthened here by two whole weeks. It’s very noticeable to anyone who has lived in the same place for 30 or more years like I have. My daffodils and tulips are blooming earlier and earlier in the spring. While some years my daffodils bloom in early April, a few years I’ve seen them bloom the last week of March, and in 2012, the year of the drought and the year we didn’t have a winter, I had daffodils blooming on March 13!

Back in the 1980s, very few farmers were able to plant corn before May 1. Now, area farmers routinely start planting corn the last week of April.

Equally impressive have been the changes in autumn. I remember when we would get several cold and nasty days in late September, and by the first week of October — during World Dairy Expo — we would be wearing winter coats, complaining about the cold weather and even turning on the furnace. We called it “Expo weather.” For the past decade, “Expo weather” has taken on a new meaning. It has been warm enough eight of the past 10 years, including this year, to wear short-sleeved shirts at Expo and no jacket.

The average first killing frost used to arrive by Oct. 3 in Fond du Lac County. Now the average first killing frost date is Oct. 14. The leaves used to peak in color the first week of October. Now it’s routinely the second and even third week of October before we see peak color.

So when Jerry Clark and Jamie Patton talk about what the climate will be like in 30 years in Wisconsin, I see that what they are saying is likely to happen based on the changes I’ve already seen during the past 30 years.

It’s fascinating that improved management practices, warmer weather and better genetics will move the heart of the Corn Belt north to Wisconsin. I wonder how long it will take the rest of the country to figure out what farmers here already know — Wisconsin is the place to farm!

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