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Growing season off to a fine start
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The spring planting in Crawford County is “pretty much done,” according UW-Extension’s Vance Hougan.

The county ag agent estimated 85 to 90 percent of the crops were planted as of Friday, May 25. Rain in recent days may briefly delay some of the remaining planting. However, the rain was definitely welcome on the planted acres.

Hougan explained that corn planted after May 15 can see a slight reduction in yield, while corn planted after June 1 will often see a major yield reduction.

Because of the early warm weather, some farmers opted to plant longer day corn earlier in the spring hoping for increased yields.

Jesse Burkum at Burkum Milling in Soldiers Grove confirmed most area farmers had completed the planting before the recent rain. Burkum also noted that some farmers who chanced early planting near Boscobel have corn that is approaching knee high already.

The recent high prices for corn have sent even more county acreage into corn production, Hougan indicated. Corn acreage appears to be increasing at the cost of hay acreage, which is decreasing.

This is raising some concern among dairy farmers and livestock producers. Hougan said the state’s hay supply is down 20-percent from the average for this time of year. This is particularly surprising because the mild winter meant a lot less hay had to be fed to cattle.

On brighter note, a large amount of first crop hay in the county was cut and baled prior to the rain.

“It was perfect weather for hay,” Hougan said. “There was plenty of wind to dry it. There was no rain from May 3 to May 24. Yields appear to be very good.”

The ag agent noted that first crop hay usually amounts to 40 to 50 percent of the total yearly production. Also with the mild winter and some early cutting, farmers may be looking at getting a fourth cutting of hay at the end of the season.

For now though, the agricultural situation in the county is looking great, according to Hougan.

It’s not just the row crop farmers and livestock producers who are happy with the spring season in Crawford County, specialty crop growers are also increasingly happy with the way things are turning out.

One of them is John Zehrer at Star Valley Flowers. Zehrer is happy with the timely rains.

“I’m grateful for the rain,” Zehrer said. “Now, we can stop watering aronia plants (planted last week) and start cutting peonies.”

Zehrer says things have settled down since the early warm weather in March, but most of the floral crops are still one to two weeks early. Production on the farm’s six acres of peonies was well underway last week and normally doesn’t start until after Memorial Day at some point in early June.

“It’s full speed ahead now,” Zehrer said of the peony harvest. Star Valley Flower crews are working 12 and 13 hours per day.

At Driftless Organics, an organic vegetable operation located in the Star Valley area, things are about right on schedule, according to Mike Lind. He estimated there are about 14.5 acres of vegetables planted with about 26 more acres to be planted.

Driftless Organics will plant 90 percent of their potatoes in the first week of June for late harvest. In addition to potatoes already planted, Driftless has a couple acres of kale planted as well as broccoli. All of their peppers are also planted. They also have carrots, beets and green beans seeded. The green beans are up and doing nicely, according to Lind.

“We were super tempted to go early in March, but Josh said we should hold back and proceed with caution,” Lind said. Josh Engel is another partner in Driftless Organics along with Lind and his brother Noah Engel.

Lind indicated they did try planting some carrot and beet seeds in March and that results have been very successful. They now have beets and carrots that are bigger than any they’ve ever had at this point in the season. He estimates there will be carrots for sale in a couple of weeks.

Then, there are the orchards. Hougan, the ag agent, said losses in the Gays Mills orchards are not as bad as people thought they might be. While the warm spring brought on early blossoms and some were hit by frost, many varieties avoided any problems.

Sunrise Orchard’s Allen Teach largely confirmed Hougan’s assessment of the situation.

“For us it looks real good,” Teach said Tuesday morning. “It’s not going to be the fullest crop we’ve ever grown, but it looks like we’ll have a darn nice crop. I was out in the orchard looking around this morning and after what we’ve been through, I’m really pleased.”

The early warm weather in March and April caused apple trees to blossom many weeks before they ordinarily would. Then, they were subject to frost damage and fear of  frost damage for weeks. Although the Gays Mills orchards look to have come through the ordeal in good condition, Teach confirmed there are many orchards in Wisconsin, which don’t have crop this year because the early blossoms were hit by frost.

In fact, Teach said the entire state of Michigan has lost its crop as result of frost on early blossoms, as has a large part of New York. In talking with someone familiar with the apple crop around the state, Teach learned that Crawford and Richalnd counties might have fared about the best of any counties in the state.

Where there was frost damage to blossoms at Sunrise, it appears to more a case of location than species, Teach indicated.

Harvest will probably be two weeks earlier than normal and three weeks ahead of last year’s late harvest. Sunrise plans to hold off on the harvest as long as possible until the apples have fully matured, according to Teach.

“Everyone can rest at ease, there are lots of apples,” Tech said of the Sunrise crop for this year.

Hougan, the ag agent, said slumping milk prices are not helping the dairy farmers at the moment. He pointed out while “the price is not terrible,” it is down quite a bit. The problem for dairy farmers is that if they have to buy feed, they are facing high input costs for corn, hay or soybeans. This is squeezing their margin from the other side.

There is some talk that the new farm bill will base assistance to farmers on gross margins rather than just price, Hougan noted.

The problem is the same for organic dairy producers, who are facing very high grain prices, according to the ag agent.

Beef producers are continuing to get some high prices and Hougan sees the potential for a great year for the county’s beef producers. The cow-calf operations common in the county benefitted from a mild winter. Grass-fed feeder cattle are expected to help with net profitability of those operations.