A bummer ag year
Wet, cool growing season hurts yields and harvest
Marathon County farmers had a rough year in 2019 and, going forward, may need to adapt to a changing climate. That’s according to UW-Cooperative Extension farm agent Dr. Heather Schlesser. The agent on Monday said farmers started the year with a late, wet spring, endured a cool summer and harvested, if that was possible, grain that was likely not quite mature. Schlesser said county farmers harvested soybeans that tip the scale at 40 to 50 pounds per bushel. An ideal weight is 60 pounds.
“Yes, you are getting something,” she commented. “But it’s not the weight you want.”
She said Marathon County farmers are doing better than their colleagues downstate, who endured flooding, and have harvested nearly all of this year’s soybeans, just about all of the silage corn and roughly 70 to 80 percent of corn planted for grain.
This residual unharvested corn, however, cannot be harvested soon, she said. Combines can’t harvest corn standing in snow.
The big problem now, Schlesser said, is that with the late harvest many dairy producers were unable to empty nearly full or full manure pits.
That means, she said, many farmers will likely need to take emergency measures this winter to transfer liquid manure to abandoned pits or dump manure on frozen ground, which leaves the material subject to run-off.
“We are seeing more overflowing manure pits this year,” Schlesser said. “We will definitely be spreading on frozen ground.”
Schlesser said dairy producers won’t see a feed shortage this year, but won’t have enough high quality feed to replenish where they have been short.
“We are not close to having the cushion that you want to see,” she said.
Schlesser said the climate is changing and that farmers, if they want to survive, have to adapt.
She noted that 2019 will be the snowiest on record. Otherwise, conditions have been extremely wet.
“You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect it to work,” she said. “You have to adapt to make it work.”
She said this year’s persistent wet weather, which included major storms and flooding, is a sign of climate change.
Schlesser said use of minimum and no-till cropping and the use of cover crops are strategies to handle increasingly wet weather.
She said no-till agriculture builds soil structure that holds water better.
“No till and minimum till are an answer to wetter conditions,” she said.
Schlesser said no-till soils planted with a cover crop heat up faster in the spring than conventionally tilled soils.