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Serving: WI

Experts Hope Rain Arrives Soon

Experts Hope Rain Arrives Soon
Drought wreaking havoc on southern Wisconsin crops.

Fond du Lac County Extension Crops and Soils Agent Mike Rankin says while Fond du Lac and areas primarily north of the city have received rain, much of the county is parched.

 "Parts of the county have gotten rain, but the southern half of the county has had almost nothing," Rankin notes.

He says some people are starting to compare the 2012 growing season to the Midwest drought in 1988 that continued through the first week of August. But Rankin says there is still one major difference between 1988 and 2012.

POOR EMERGENCE: Later planted corn in southern Wisconsin had uneven emergence due to a lack of rain in May and June. Corn in this field near Campbellsport in southeastern Fond du Lac County was 18 inches tall and 6 inches tall all in the same row.

 "We've definitely lost yield, but at least this is happening before pollination. Corn hybrids can withstand a lot more stress today than they could in 1988," he says. "We're not critical yet in Fond du Lac County. It's worse south of here. We could still get rain and I've seen corn pull out of droughts like this before. But obviously we can't go on forever. The next week will tell the story."

In general, Rankin says earlier planted corn is looking better than corn planted after the middle of May.

"But it really depends on the soil type," he says.  The crops are suffering more on lighter soils and over knolls. That's the biggest factor."

Some soybeans had emergence issues, Rankin says. 

 "Soybeans compensate better than corn. Most of them haven't reached the point where they are in the reproductive stages. They can still hang on until we get some rain."


Due to a mild winter, extremely early spring and a hot, dry summer, Rankin says insects have been major problem this year in corn and alfalfa fields.



Mike Rankin

"Variegated cutworms have been the worst pest to control," he says. "We've hardly ever seen them until this year. They've done tremendous damage in some alfalfa fields."

There were a number of farmers who had just tons of variegated cutworms in their alfalfa after they cut their second crop hay.

"Their mower conditioners were just covered with cutworms," Rankin says.

After alfalfa was laid in windrows, "They looked underneath the windrows and the cutworms had eaten most of the new alfalfa regrowth. They had to spray as soon as they finished second crop."

Rankin says black cutworms have also done a lot of damage in corn, forcing farmers to spray their corn fields to control those pests or, in some cases, replant.

Hay fields, pastures dry up

Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin-Extension forage agronomist, says a lack of moisture combined with extreme heat has caused alfalfa fields and pastures to dry up.

Dan Undersander

"We've had way above average temperatures," this spring and summer," he says. "In a normal year, we'll have nine days of temperatures in the 90s. By July 14, we already had 18 days above 90 and some of those were in the triple digits. And we still have a lot more summer to go."

Intense heat combined with record-low rainfall has created a severe problem.

"We're definitely losing a cutting of alfalfa," Undersander says.

He predicts most farmers in southern Wisconsin will be short of hay.

"First crop yields were reduced by as much as 25% because of dry weather early, second crop yields were near normal and they will get little or no third crop."

Undersander says it's important to recognize that the drought not only affects hay yields it has also impacted pastures.

"Most of the pastures dried up by July 1. So this adds to the forage shortage because farmers have to feed hay to the cattle when they normally would have pasture to eat."

If it starts raining, Undersander says, alfalfa and pastures will recover.

Undersander says producers should be scouting alfalfa fields for potato leafhoppers and army worms and be ready to spray even if alfalfa fields were sprayed in May or June.

"Variegated cutworms are winding down, but the army worm can occur all summer," Undersander says. "They're called army worms because they move in mass. They can strip down an alfalfa field in 24 hours if thick enough.

Undersander recommends if army worms are in a field and the hay is near harvest, to harvest the hay as quickly as possible. "Continue to scout the fields and if you see more than 1 army worm per square foot, then spray. They're here now and will continue to be a significant problem into early August."
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