The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency released the numbers last week that a lot of people were waiting to see. How many acres didn’t get planted this spring because of the unusually wet weather across much of the country has been a coffee shop topic all year. Their totals came to 3.4 million acres of corn, 1.6 million acres of soybeans and 1.7 million acres of wheat that never saw the planter this year. The total also includes lesser amounts of oats and barley ground that also lay fallow this year.
In some of the major growing states those numbers were big. Iowa farmers left 613,257 acres of corn and 106,350 acres of soybeans unplanted. Minnesota farmers had to leave 616, 671 acres of corn and 203, 760 acres of soybeans go unplanted. By comparison, Wisconsin farmers took prevented planting insurance on 354,185 total crop acres. That breakdown includes 264,193 acres of corn, 86,647 acres of soybeans, 1,867 acres of oats, 847 acres of wheat and 629 acres of oats that didn’t get planted in the state this year.
By looking at the county breakdown of prevented planted acres, it’s easy to see where the wettest weather was this spring across the state. The line starts in West Central counties like St. Croix and extends east through
Chippewa, Clark, Taylor, Wood, Marathon and then diving a little south through Dodge and Fond du Lac counties with some of the contiguous counties also taking a planting hit.
Only three counties in the state were hit with prevented planted acreages of over 20,000 acres. Clark county had the most unplanted land with 28,672 acres, followed by Wood county at 21,557 acres and Chippewa at 20,205. Eight other counties had over 10,000 acres that couldn’t be planted this year.
The dubious honor of having the most prevented planted acres isn’t something that Clark County Crops and Soils agent, Richard Halopka is thrilled to deal with. When he heard the final numbers, Halopka told us, “Well we already have the prize for number one in milk production in the state and now we’re number one in something else, but it’s not one we want.”
Clark county farmers usually plant their crops a little later than farmers in surrounding counties because of their heavier silt loam, clay soils. Halopka said the county soil is in the Loyal series on top that is underlain with the Withee and Marshfield soils that are heavier and don’t drain as well. This year that soil profile has been a challenge to producers not only during the late planting season but also during the growing season as we get into the harvest. Halopka said, “the challenge is that the corn is so uneven that the corn silage harvest might go on for two months, and that’s on the same farm.” Normally, he told us, the average corn silage yield in the county is about 20 tons of silage per acre. This year, he figures, “farmers will average about half of that.” He also expects the quality will be down with less grain or starch in the plant so “agronomists and nutritionists will earn their money this year trying to find the right ingredients to balance rations without busting farmers’ budgets.” Right now no one is completely sure about the quality of this year’s forages which will be the mainstay of rations going forward because the poorly drained soils caused the corn plants to develop a shallow and reduced root mass, sidewall compaction and even some early season disease issues. Development of the plants was also compromised because of the early season temperatures in the 90s followed by falling temperatures later on that dropped all the way into the 40s.
Clark and most other counties were also hurt badly by the reduction in our most important forage, alfalfa. Halopka said in Clark county, farmers normally rotate 25% of the their alfalfa stands each year. But this year, he told us, “fully another 50% of our alfalfa was lost to winterkill so that means we lost 75% of our alfalfa stands in one season.”
When asked to compare the drought of 2012 with the conditions of this year, Halopka said that “at least last year we had a crop-the corn was respectable and the forages were short, but right now, until we see what fall is like, we’re not real sure what we have.”