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Serving: WI
snow-covered soybean plants Nathan O’Leary
SNOW-COVERED SOYBEANS: Only 46% of soybeans in Wisconsin were harvested by Oct. 27 before two snowstorms on Oct. 29 and Oct. 31 blanketed parts of the state.

It looks like we’re in for a long, nasty winter

Too much precipitation in 2019 swamps Wisconsin farms.

I don’t know of any farmers who were dreaming of a white Halloween, but that’s what we got in east-central Wisconsin, when it snowed twice the last week of October.

Two days before the spooky holiday, we awoke to a frightful 4 inches of snow blanketing unharvested corn and soybean fields, pumpkins on front porches, and everything else. Fortunately, most of the snow melted off by the end of the day. Then on Halloween, the weather gods dumped another 5 inches of the white, fluffy stuff across most of the southern half of the state. The high temperature on Halloween was 31 degrees F, so none of the snow melted before a few brave and bundled-up trick-or-treaters ventured out.

In 60 years, this is the first time I can recall snow accumulating on the ground in October. It makes me think we are in for a very long, nasty winter! Most years we are surprised to get snow by Thanksgiving, and there have been quite a few years when we are hoping it snows by Christmas. But not this year — it looks like winter is off to a rip-roaring start.

Record-breaking precipitation

To add insult to injury, on Oct. 1, Green Bay and most of northeast Wisconsin broke the record for the wettest year with 40 inches of precipitation — with three months remaining in the year. The previous record was 39 inches set in 2018, which everyone thought was a wet year.

The Sunday before these October snowstorms, Wisconsin farmers had harvested 81% of their corn silage and 46% of their soybeans — about 19 days behind the five-year average. And only 13% of corn for grain had been combined.

Halloween decorations covered with snow
WHITE HALLOWEEN: Four inches of snow fell where I live in western Fond du Lac County, Wis., on Oct. 29, followed by 5 more inches on Halloween.

The weather has been challenging the entire year. We had four January thaws before the last week of January, when schools, businesses and government agencies across the state were closed for three days due to the polar vortex. Temperatures plummeted to minus 30 degrees for three days while windchills fell to minus 45 degrees. We had lots of snow in February and March, which is expected.

But in April, much of the state was hit with heavy snow, especially in northwestern Wisconsin. This caused several barn roofs in northwestern Wisconsin to collapse, and creeks and rivers across the state to flood. It also set up farmers for a delayed planting season. In many cases, crops did not get planted. According to the Wisconsin Farm Service Agency, Wisconsin farmers with crop insurance took prevented planting on 459,920 acres of corn out of 3,713,074 acres planted and on 125,061 acres of soybeans out of 1,724,100 acres planted.

Farmers trying to make hay were challenged, too. According to WFRV-TV in Green Bay, it rained or snowed 57 days in April, May and June, which is more often than every other day. The second week of July was the first time farmers in northeastern Wisconsin were able to put together three dry days in a row to make hay. Farmers in northwestern Wisconsin were hit by tornadoes in July and September, damaging homes, crops and farm buildings in several counties.

Northeast Wisconsin received 9 inches of rain during September, delaying the corn silage harvest for the second year in a row. The weather was similar across much of the southern two-thirds of the state.

Many farmers were waiting for late-planted crops, especially corn, to dry down before starting to combine. Now it will be a race to the finish as they will have to try to harvest those crops in extremely wet fields or wait until it freezes and hope it doesn’t snow a lot more. In any case, 2019 will be a weather year most of us won’t soon forget.

Comments? Email fran.oleary@farmprogress.com.

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