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Cooler weather delaying blossoms, planting, and more
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Will there be blossoms for Mother’s Day weekend and the annual Gays Mills Spring Festival? Maybe, but probably not, is what most in the know are saying.

Colder wet weather has delayed the blossoms a bit this year, according orchard owners. As of this past weekend, the trees were about a week behind the average year, but that can change in hurry.

On a warm Saturday, April 27, Kickapoo Orchard’s Andy Meyer thought the blossoms were two to three weeks away depending on temperatures. However, looking at predicted cooler temperatures for this week, Meyer was thinking more toward three weeks. If the blossoms came in on his lower estimate of two weeks, they’d occur right on Mother’s Day weekend. To get there the temperatures would need to go over 55 and stay there. The blossoms will come out much more slowly if temperatures were to stay cool in the 40s and might even take until the last week of May to arrive, according to the orchardist.

Like Meyer, Sunrise’s Allen Teach feels the apple crop development is a little behind normal so far, but pointed out that can change rapidly. Teach, like others, noted that last year’s extremely early blossom is making people think that this year’s slightly behind crop is a lot further behind than it really is.

In fact, last year’s early crop gave people like Teach and Meyer plenty of worries about frost damage—although somehow the crop pulled through.

“We proved last year that we can have a heck of a lot of frost here (in the Gays Mills orchards) and still wind up with an apple crop,” Teach said. “But, not freezing at all is a lot less stressful on us and the trees both.”

There are some definite upsides to crop that’s a week or two behind average in Gays Mills.

“We’re happy,” Meyer said. “It gives us more time to prune. We had an extra month-and-a-half of pruning over last year. And, we’re still pruning.”

Teach also saw a potential upside to the later crop.

“A later crop is a good crop,” Teach said. “The later it is in fall that we harvest, the more cooler night temperatures we get to help the apples get color versus last year when we had to harvest in August and the heat was still blazing.”

Crawford County Ag agent Vance Haugen echoed the orchardists’ sentiment about the year. Like Teach and Meyer, Haugen believes the season is progressing a little later than normal. He also notes the unbelievable difference from last year. Nevertheless, the ag agent emphasized that the season was just a little later than normal and the temperatures were just a little under the average.

“It’s kind of back to more of what we expected 30 or 40 years ago,” Haugen said. “Snow in April was not unusual.”

Haugen acknowledged some farmers were “a little nervous” about planting. However, he noted that the UW-Extension’s corn specialist sees May 1 as the optimal date to plant for maximum yield based on 20 to 30 years of study.

Haugen explained going past that date might make a small reduction in yield but it wouldn’t be “a huge amount.”

“People are glad to see the moisture,” Haugen said. “They’re just getting antsy.”

What about the livestock?

Haugen noted that producers running short on feed and forage and without pasture opportunities had been forced to buy some higher priced feed this spring to get through.

Grazers (dairy producers relying primarily on grazing cows) were holding back from setting them on pastures because of concerns for the grass, which still had to recover from the drought and some heavy grazing pressure in fall.

On a bright note, the ag agent pointed out that there are not many reports of alfalfa damage.

So where is the planting?

It’s just starting, according to Haugen. You could observe people doing fieldwork, spreading manure or other fertilizers, but as of last week Friday the ag agent was not aware of anyone planting.

Haugen cautioned farmers who were anxious to start to hold off until field conditions were right. He noted that working wet soils could lead to compaction. This problem could then remain with them for many years.

Finally, Haugen urged farmers to adjust fertilizer application down to compensate for the lack of fertilizer used in the lower yield drought year just passed.

“If you fertilized for 200 bushels per acre and got 140, it’s not automatic, but there’s a pretty good chance you might want to back off the fertilizer recommendation this year,” the ag agent explained.

Haugen also urged farmers to think about leaving in some hay stands. He noted that among livestock producers big and small, he was not hearing of anyone coming out of the winter with a lot of forage on hand. Additionally, the Midwest region is reporting low acreage of forage planted due to demand for land for growing commodity crops.

“Hay prices should be good for a year or two,” Haugen said. “Farmers should evaluate hay stands and realize they might make more money than they would in corn or soybeans. If you have it established, why tear it up?”

The late spring has also had its impact on others, who must count on the weather for planting.

 “I’m saying my prayers,” said Joe Brandt, owner of the Village Greenhouse in Gays Mills and a large supplier of bedding plants. “You don’t know how many cold clippers could still come, it’s not Mother’s Day yet. We could still get snow.”

Brandt described this spring as a more old-fashioned spring, saying our expectations have been changed by last year’s unseasonable warmth.

“We are still having to take plants outside during the day because the greenhouses are too hot for the cool season crops,” Brandt said.

In comparison to 2012, sales are behind at the greenhouse.

“This year it’s later, so people aren’t buying bedding plants yet,” Brandt said. “I think you’ll hear that from all the growers right now.”

However, the weather is set to break and Brandt anticipates being very busy, very soon.

“The cooler weather has really rolled the business back about three weeks from last year,” said Bill Kepler, owner of Reads Creek Nursery. “Last year, we had customers coming in earlier. So financially, this really condenses things.

“We have things we haven’t been able to get out of the ground yet,” Kepler continued. “We just have to hope for the best.”

Despite expectations of higher temperatures and continued drought for much of the nation, Wisconsin can expect a cooler than normal summer, according to Dr. Greg Postel, with the Weather Channel.

Postel has predicted that, on average, the Jet Stream will dip down and remain below the Great Lakes region, keeping temperatures cooler than the norm.