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Tough growing season leads for a late harvest for farmers
Harvest 2019
TODD VESBACH’S CREW was busy harvesting corn on Sunday, Nov. 10 off County J in Vernon County. As one member of the crew pointed out. “It’s getting late and there’s a lot of corn left to harvest.” Estimates are that 40 to 50 percent of the corn in Southwest Wisconsin is not harvested at this point [this information was accurate two weeks ago].

DRIFTLESS - It was not a great growing year for local crop farmers. It started cold and wet–so planting was delayed to the last possible moment and beyond in some cases.

What was planted was almost always being planted into wet, muddy ground. 

“We mudded them in,” became the phrase heard over and over about the soybean and corn planting this past spring.

However, through sheer determination more crops did get planted locally than most people thought possible. Of course, there were bottom fields underwater or pretty close to it and they were not planted, but lots of other land was planted.

And the seeds grew, despite a late and often slow start. The crops weren’t helped much by a growing season that remained wet and relatively cold–lacking the necessary or desired degree-days.

Then, came the wet late summer and fall. The slow-maturing crop got slower. When it was finally matured, it was wet and a delayed harvest was delayed even more.

Finally, there was nothing left to do but harvest it and in many cases dry it.

First came the soybeans and their moisture levels were often too high, for which the buyers docked the growers and reduced the price per bushel.

Then, came the corn and it was way too moist. Most of it came in at 22 to 24 percent and it had to be dried to 17 percent.

And guess what? Lots of it remains in the field as we enter the last week of November. 

On Monday, Chris Olson from Olson Feed and Seed in Seneca made “an uneducated guess” that locally about 50 percent of the corn crop was not harvested.

The USDA Crop Report released Monday was a bit more optimistic for the Southwest Wisconsin corn harvest estimating that 58 percent was now harvested–meaning 42 percent was not yet harvested.

A couple of local growers interviewed by the Independent-Scout last week indicated that while they were not completely finished, they would be soon. 

However, warmer temperatures creating muddy fields and predictions of more precipitation may have altered those ideas as the week went on–it snowed on Tuesday morning.

Despite it all, the growers and others involved in the harvest remained pretty upbeat, despite some grousing about the conditions.

“The soybeans went good,” according to Ferryville farmer Swede Knutson. “It was much better than expected.” 

Knutson has sold most of the soybeans he harvested, but is storing some. The local grower was also happy with his corn harvest.

“The yield was decent,” Knutson said of his corn crop. “It’s not a bumper crop, but it’s a good crop.”

Like most others, Knutson’s corn had high moisture content in the 21 to 22 percent range due in large part to later planting and the wet conditions.

“It was all in fairly early compared to a lot of people, but it was planted into mud,” Knutson explained.

Mt. Sterling farmer Daryl Aspenson was still looking at about 500 acres to harvest on Monday, Nov. 11. Like Knutson, Aspenson suffered through the late planting and cool wet weather of the growing season, but had some luck with the crops.

His soybean crop that was planted early averaged 50 bushels to the acre. However, the later plantings didn’t mature well and averaged 30 bushels to the acre. Most of the crop came in around 16 percent for moisture, which was above the required 13 to 13.5 percent for storage and shipping. The buyer docked Aspenson 40 cents per bushel due to the high moisture content.

Aspenson’s corn crop ranged from 18 to 22 percent in moisture content and it was being dried.

Iowa County Ag Agent Shriefer called in Monday to discuss the harvest. He is filling in for the Crawford County Ag Agent, who has yet to be hired.

Schriefer confirmed that soybeans were not quite totally harvested and the corn appeared to be about 50 percent harvested.

The ag agent indicated wet weather was slowing down the harvest. Generally, the farmers he had contacted were pleased with soybean yield.

As for the season, Shriefer noted there had been challenges right from the start to the end.

Chris Olson confirmed a lot of what the ag agent said. He noted it was so wet in spring farmers couldn’t get the crops in the ground. Corn, which should be planted by May 1 was not planted until mid-May and in some cases June 1.

Growing problems were compounded by wet and cold soils that sure didn’t help anything, according to Olson.

“We didn’t get the degree units to make energy in the corn,” Olson explained.

Despite the problems there have been corn yields average or even above average in some cases, Olson reported. He attributed the good results to some of the amazing new corn varieties that were able to achieve pretty good yields under less than optimal conditions.

Unfortunately, current weather conditions have made fields very sloppy and the harvest has been hampered, as machinery is slipping around in the hilly fields.

As for the grain market, growers weren’t particularly impressed. Olson noted that prices were 40 to 50 cents up per bushel on soybeans over last year, but the growers pointed out they were paying more in drying costs and dockages on the moist crop.

Aspenson seemed to speak for a lot of farmers when he questioned the accuracy of the USDA harvest reports. He noted that in his travels as tour bus driver this season he saw a lot of unplanted acres. He doubts the USDA forecast on the size of the harvest will be correct.

Aspenson said that they’re planning to wait until January to sell the crop, when the actual extent of the harvest might be better known and prices could increase. Both Aspenson and Knutson received special MMF payments from the federal government to try to offset the impact on commodity prices of the current trade war with China and other countries. Both farmers agreed those payments helped, but were not a real or permanent solution.

“The MMF payments keep you alive,” Knutson said. “So, you can farm until the bank says no more.”

It seems everybody is looking for a better year next year.

Chris Olson said you have to be an optimist to be a farmer and it seems, despite it all, we still have plenty of optimists out there.