What did you learn from the weather this year?

What did you learn from the weather this year?

Since starting as a crop consultant until now in my position with UW Discovery Farms, I have worked with Wisconsin farmers for 33 growing seasons. Winter, spring, summer, fall; every season and year is different. And, just to keep farming fun, 2017 did not disappoint.

In this article 2017 weather is summarized using snippets from a monthly UW Discovery Farms Weather, Runoff & Crop Management Report produced for farmers in the Jersey Valley Watershed (Cashton and Westby, Wisconsin).  Although your local weather may not exactly track with this, I bet you can relate.

On many Wisconsin farms the 2017 crop season was impacted by a very wet corn silage harvest last fall. In September 2016 rainfall at our Cashton weather station totaled 11.3 inches in September, a total more than triple the 30-year average of 3.5 inches. Last year’s wet fall brought with it a delayed corn silage harvest; feed that was drier and less able to pack and store properly; many wet fields that became rutted, scarred and compacted; and challenging timing and field choices for fall manure applications. One good piece to the wet weather was that adequately moist soil allowed for broadcast winter rye to thrive on any corn silage field it was spread on.

Discovery Farms research shows that the most vulnerable time for soil loss is April through June in part because crop canopy does not provide soil protection from rain drop impact. This April Jersey Valley was wet with a total of 5.8 inches of rainfall, a full 2 inches above average. 

In May the Jersey Valley area received 5.8 inches of rain, well above the average of 3.5 inches. The wet, cool spring delayed planting, which caused at least a two week delay in corn and bean maturity this fall. Jersey Valley had a couple of intense rains in May on fresh planted fields that caused scarring and soil loss. Subsequent rains generated runoff that followed and deepened the same scarred runoff routes. Many fields developed alluvial deltas of soil on bottom edges.

Making dry hay was also a challenge. In June our Cashton weather station recorded 5.9 inches of rain, 1.5 inches above the 30-year average of 4.3 inches. 

And then in July, the Jersey Valley area had 12.5 inches of rain, almost three times more than the average of 4.25 inches. Again, the wet summer with daytime temperatures in the low 80s continued pushing crop maturity steadily forward, yet slower than normal. A big storm in July caused damage through the night hours of the 19th (1.5 inches), early morning hours of the 20th (4.6 inches) and again on the 21st (1.5 inches). In total, the Cashton area got 7.6 inches of rain from this storm.  Flash flooding, stream bank damage, and soil erosion were widespread throughout western Wisconsin.

And then this! We are dry; The Jersey Valley area had 2.5 inches of rain in August, almost two inches below the 30-year average of 4.3 inches. September has been looking similarly dry.

As fall arrives, here are some reminders pertinent to the 2017 crop season weather: 
1. If you aim to alleviate last fall’s soil compaction, consider deep tillage on dry soil. Determine compaction depth using a penetrometer, and set tillage to be two inches deeper than the compacted bottom layer.
2.Get cover crops planted as soon as possible. With later harvest this fall make a deliberate plan to harvest and seed critical fields as a special operation even as the rest of harvest continues.
3.Be safe this harvest season. Watch for ruts and field debris to avoid getting hurt and
damaging machinery. 

If you have farmed for a few cycles, you know that every season is different. What did you learn this year from the weather? Is there a management practice you can carry forward and build on to make your crops, soils, and fields as resilient as possible and set up for efficient production, regardless of the weather? Let us know at www.waterwaynetwork.org