Dave Laatsch, interim Dodge County Extension crops and soils agent, says the challenges of this year's growing season has provided plenty of teachable moments for farmers.
Laatsch says crops in Dodge County received little rain in May after heavy rains the first week of May and less than an inch in June. Crop saving rains arrived July 26 and 27 dumping as much as 3 inches across much of the county.
"The three inches of rain has lifted the stress not only on the crop but on the people," Laatsch says. "The stress was building. I felt the stress among farmers. I sensed it with every call I took and every farm visit I made. You could see it on the faces of folks I talked too. You could really see it on the faces of farmers who don't have crop insurance."
About 60% of Wisconsin farmers have crop insurance statewide.
"But that doesn't tell you what kind of coverage they have," Laatch says. "Some may just have hail insurance."
Laatsch notes that crops today have a potential value of as much as $1,200 to $1,500 per acre.
"Why wouldn't you take out crop insurance to insure that investment? That is the No.1 lesson that is going to come out of this drought. And crop insurance is subsidized 63% by the federal government. Premiums range from about $17 to $23 an acre. Some farmers are wondering if crop insurance is worth it. But a lot of those farmers who didn't have it didn't sleep for six weeks.
Farmers were asking Laatsch ''what is the feed value of my corn?"
"How could I give them an honest appraisal of a crop that was anywhere from 8 feet tall and tasseling to other stalks in the field that were a foot and half tall and burned off three quarters of the way up the stalk? I couldn't give them the answer they wanted. In Wisconsin we have fields with a wide variety of soil types. Yields within fields will vary greatly."
~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~It's pretty hard to make an appraisal of how much the corn will yield until the combines roll, Laatsch says.
"Corn on average in Dodge County yields 140 to150 bushels per acre," he explains. "But farmers know they can get 200 maybe 220 bushels to the acre in a good year. But then we have years like this one. This year they will be doing well to get 100 and 110 bushels to the acre. I think that's what we're going to see, especially when the poorer fields are chopped for silage.
I think we'll see soybeans averaging 35 bushels providing we have cooperative weather through late summer and fall . Our county yield average for soybeans is 40 bushels. We had lots of fields with 60 bushels plus last year, but not this year."
A lot of farmers wish they had planted more wheat this year, Laatsch says.
"I had farmers with 120 bushel wheat yields," he says. "Most were around 90 to 100 bushels. A lot of farmers are going to learn from this year they need to diversify their crops and wheat should be a part of it. A lot of later planted vegetable crops will do well this year too. This rain that we've had and cooler weather has advanced those late vegetable crops. Early planted corn was what suffered the most."
Laatsch says he was impressed with the performance of this year's corn hybrids.
"I'm absolutely amazed at how resilient most of the corn was. I do know tassel development was delayed and ear development was delayed. And when we got the rain, everything happened in just a matter of days," he explains. "I was in a field and a farmer asked me to come out and appraise his field and it was like a whole different world was happening in that field. Some of the ears had 20 and 22 rows on them. I saw this man's demeanor change instantly. He realized he had potential for a crop. I am absolutely amazed that the crop was able to delay maturity and then get moisture and mature. I don't think hybrids from the 1980s would not have been able to have done so well with this level of stress. If we continue to get timely rains, we could be looking at a crop that is better than we may have expected."
~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~But Laatsch says farmers are starting to think about another concern – an early frost.
"We have to have continued rains. Even though we got rain, we have a lot of growing season left," he says.
"We also have to keep our fingers crossed that we don't get an early frost. We've had beautiful weather in September the past five years and the crops have matured and we need that again this year. Last year we had a killing frost in early October. With the stress this crop has been under, we could be in some serious situations for corn. I think the soybeans will OK. We have a lot of farmers trying to double-crop wheat with peas and oats. If we get an early frost, the crop won't mature and we won't get the amount of forage we would like to have. There are a lot of folks hoping to get a fourth and maybe a fifth cutting of alfalfa. We would have a stressed alfalfa crop and it would be weakened by an early frost and that could set us up for a lot of winterkill going into next year."