It might have been a bit of a peculiar growing season this year, but it’s turning into a pretty good harvest for most every farmer and grower in the area.
First there was the long cold ‘Zombie Winter’ that wouldn’t die. It was followed by a wet spring that turned into a wetter spring and climaxed with some flooding and landslides due to saturated ground in late June. Getting anything planted during the spring was a challenge in almost everyone’s estimation and a lot of corn and soybean seeds were “mudded in.” Plenty of commodity crops, along with vegetable and specialty crops were planted late?sometimes very late. Some corn was planted in mid-June and some soybeans were planted in mid-July.
There were also delays in planting almost every other crop. The Gays Mills apple orchards enjoyed a very late bloom and the blossoms universally avoided any frost damage because of their late arrival.
Later in the summer, things got even stranger and much of the area was subject to a ‘flash drought’ with moisture limited for four or five weeks. Then, the rains returned in the end of August and into September. Crops grew that needed more time because of late planting.
A beautiful apple harvest of good quality and quantity was welcomed in the orchards. Lots of corn worked out just fine and some pretty impressive yields are reported in some areas.
How good was the yield?
Although the yield varies, dropping quite a bit in areas with shallower soils, commodity farmer Daryl Aspenson likes what he’s seen so far, which includes plenty of heavier corn yields in the 180 to 200 bushel per acre range.
Olson Feeds’ Chris Olson confirmed corn yields so far appeared to be “very high,” while soybean yields were sounding more like the average. The local feed and seed dealer estimated the corn harvest in the area was about 25 percent complete at this point and a lot of the corn already harvested was intended either for silage or high moisture corn. Like others, Olson sees the harvest as following a normal timeline this year instead of the accelerated harvest of last year and even the year before.
A heavier frost expected this week, should help with harvest conditions, killing corn plants and speeding the drying process.
Corn moisture levels are about 18 to 24 percent now and the corn needs to be dried to 13 or 14 percent for storage, according to Olson.
While farmers may be pleased with heavier yields of 200 bushels per acre in places, they are less enthusiastic about the price, which has slid from around $7.50 per bushel last year to about $4.50 per bushel today and may be heading to $4 per bushel as the harvest continues. To Olson, lower prices and greater yields means keeping revenue per acre about the same.
Crawford County FSA Executive Director John Baird thought the harvest was further along than Aspenson, Olson or UW Extension Ag Agent Vance Haugen did. However, Baird was quick to acknowledge that missing work due to the federal government shutdown for two weeks means his perspective on the harvest may not be as accurate as it could be.
Baird, like the others, was hearing reports of 150 to 200 bushel per acre corn harvests. He said there were “some very good crops in the county.” However, the FSA official said reports on soybeans were running 25 to 35 bushels per acre rather than the 55 to 60 bushels found in heavy harvests.
Not everyone is hearing the same thing. Although Aspenson is not growing soybeans this year, he has reports from others that they are harvesting about 50 bushels per acre.
Ag agent Haugen believes the soybean crop is working out better than many expected it would. He believes timely rains benefitted both late-planted soybeans and corn.
Baird noted that while a lot of corn has not yet been harvested, he believes well over half has been harvested at this point. Growers with both soybeans and corn need to pick the beans before the corn because the beans can’t take the coming cold weather, Baird explained.
Baird said a substantial amount of acres in the county were not planted because of deteriorating weather conditions during the spring. The FSA has reported 1,250 acres in the county as unplanted. Baird believes there are also probably other acres unplanted that weren’t reported. He noted that Crawford County typically plants about 33,000 acres of corn and 14,000 acres of soybeans. Having over 1,000 acres reported unplanted is “kind of rare,” according to Baird.
Some unplanted acres may be the result of farmers’ participation in crop insurance policies, which list a cut off date for corn planting in the county at May 31. Planting later and then trying to collect insurance of failed crops means lower payments.
The great hay shortage of 2012, which peaked in the spring of 2013 has definitely ended, according to Haugen. While there is still a good solid market for quality hay, lower quality utility hay has dropped considerably and is now getting about $50 per ton. The higher quality hay is selling for $250 per ton in Fort Atkinson last week, the ag agent noted.
Livestock producers and dairy farmers are happier with the lower prices on both hay and corn. Beef prices remain high on limited availability and the milk price is $18/hundredweight with premiums pushing toward $19 or $20.
Kickapoo Orchard’s Andy Meyer is happy with a nice crop of apples. However, he isn’t having the easy time selling them that he did last year, when Gays Mills orchards were some of the few sources for apples grown outside of Washington state.
Meyer can see “the light at the end of the tunnel” and believes the crew will finish picking apples later in the week. The last apples being picked include Empires, Harrelsons, Greenings and Red Delicious. All are good storage apples and the orchards continue to have good supplies of apples available in their salesrooms.
Vegetable grower Josh Engel, an owner of Driftless Organics, experienced a challenging growing season in the Star Valley area that included a cold start, then a flooded packing shed and lower fields followed by a drought for five or six weeks. Despite all of that and more, Engel had a pretty upbeat attitude about the situation.
“Overall, we’re pretty pleased with the season,” Engel said. “We had a very nice crop of carrots and although they came in later we did well with our tomatoes and peppers also.”
At the moment, Driftless Organics is finishing the potato harvest before moving on to beets, radishes and parsnips.
Specialty growers, like Susie Kinzie, owner of Stony Point Flowers, are also seeing the growing season come to an end.
“The last few weeks have sure been nice,” Kinzie said of the reprieve from early killing frosts. “It was tricky getting crops in the (wet) ground, but it pulled itself together.”
Stony Point had a very successful year growing annuals for the cut flower market. Because of the late frost, Kinzie’s crew was able to continue cutting things like zinnias and celosia until last week.
With the change in the weather Stony Point will begin cutting dogwood and willow branches soon, according to Kinzie.
While the growing season may have been challenging at times, most farmers and growers seem to be pretty happy with the way things are turning out in the harvest.