As we enter the first full week of 2015, it finally looks a lot like winter in southwest Wisconsin. The air has been cold and now there is a couple of inches of snow covering the fields, giving a peaceful, picturesque view throughout the region.
But what will be the viewpoint in the fields this spring and for growing season 2015. Will the lack of cover earlier this season mean trouble for the plants? And is there an even bigger issue looming for farmers, depressed prices for what they grow?
For UW Extension agent Ted Bay, making predictions is not something he likes to do with different aspects to this coming growing season. There are a lot of unknowns, but there are some indicators that also give him pause as he looks at what’s ahead.
“I have made predictions in the past that have turned out, and I have made predictions that turned out not to come true,” Bay said.
Despite being a mostly moderate winter before this week, there have been dips in the temperature that may affect foraging crops in the field left exposed due to the lack of snow cover. “We would be much more comfortable with 6-8 inches of snow cover,” Bay said, who noted there is no way to know if the winter had any affect on plants like alfalfa until March, when samples can be dug up and split to see if there was any damage caused by cold.
The mercury has not dipped like it did in 2008, when winter kill was seen throughout the region’s alfalfa crop.
There is still a lot of winter left for Mother Nature to catch up on snowfall totals as well. While great for travelers, the lack of snowfall can be an issue for farmers in the spring as the level of groundwater may not be as concentrated as it needs to be to feed the planted crops.
As with the weather, farmers have to wait and see what happens during the course of the year.
One area Bay is more concerned about, something he expects to be getting more attention as the year progresses are the prices farmers expect to get for their crops this year.
Right now, grain prices are $2 off what they were two years ago, and projections show the price is not rising this year. Back in 2013, the futures price averaged $6 a bushel in January. Last year, the price started at $4.60, but quickly jumped to $5.20.
This year, the average has been approximately $4.
“That is huge,” Bay said of the lower price. In looking at budgets Bay says the projections either need to be that farmers yield more than 200 bushels per acre, or look at ignoring one of their longterm costs for this year to have a profitable year.
And if your a farmer who rents a good portion of the crop ground you cultivate, it may a tough year.
Bay said that the rise in grain prices in 2014 was due to concern that the growing season would not have good yields. This year, the projections are for a normal growing season, which means prices are remaining low.
That means taking a good look at the price to farm.
“I think our biggest challenge is to manage input costs,” Bay said. For some, that may mean not budgeting for equipment this year, for others it may mean taking a hard look at labor costs.
Still, with it only being the first week of the new year, there are a lot of variables yet to play out. “We have some unknowns here,” Bay noted.