The worst they’ve ever seen

That’s how Ozaukee Country farmers, experts describe a bleak planting season that is the result of fall and spring rain, wild winter temperature swings

FARMER DAVE BRUNNQUELL examined a field of stunted corn this week in the Town of Grafton, the victim of cold, wet weather that has afflicted the area in recent months. Brunnquell and others say a series of severe weather events beginning last fall has created the worst growing conditions they’ve seen in a lifetime. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press staff

Even the most casual observer knows it was a wet spring. But for farmers and other more seasoned observers of weather, this year has been one for the ages.

“I have been farming for 40 years and I’ve never seen anything close to this, especially on such a widespread basis throughout the country,” said Dave Brunnquell, who farms about 2,000 acres in Ozaukee County as owner of Century Farms.  “Every place in the country has some sort of difficulty. This is one for the record books.”

Ozaukee County Land and Water Management Director Andy Holschbach agreed.

“Overall, this is the latest and most challenging planting season I have seen in my lifetime,” Holschbach said.

It’s not just this spring that’s the problem. This spring followed a wetter-than-usual  fall, which delayed the harvest, and a lot of field work or fertilizer application didn’t get done.

That was followed by an unusually warm January, an arctic-like February and extremely wet March and April.

Cold soils hampered the emergence of planted crops and the rain kept farmers out of their fields.

Alfalfas and grass crops like wheat didn’t overwinter at all. 

“It was too much for those crops to tolerate,” Brunnquell said.

As for corn?

Half the state’s corn crop wasn’t planted until June.

“I have never planted corn in June before,” Brunnquell said. “We ended up not planting about 10% of our acres because we couldn’t physically get out there.” 

When he did plant, he had to rush to get it in, with rain falling every two to three days.

In many cases, there was no chance for tilling.

“We just put the planter in the ground and went,” he said. “Our windows of opportunity were so tiny. As soon as we got in the field we were planting to beat the next storm.”

By Fourth of July, Brunnquell estimated about 70% of the corn crop had reached the proverbial knee-high point.

“The rest should be there in a week or two,” he said.

Holschbach said most corn is about a month behind where it should be, but all is not lost, if conditions improve.

“Total impact will be known this fall,” he said.  “If we have a hot summer, average rainfall and a late frost, that will lessen the impact.”

Unless the area gets a hot dry stretch of weather, soybeans could be in trouble.

“Soybeans do not like wet ground,” Brunnquell said. “If we don’t get a dry spell, we’re going to see leaf and root diseases.”

The same weather pattern has plagued the entire upper Midwest and caused problems moving grain to markets, depleting feed supplies.

That means corn normally headed for Milwaukee for export or to be processed for ethanol will go to local mills for livestock feed.

“There just isn’t a lot of grain,” Brunnquell said. “We already dipped into our feed supplies last year because of a bad alfalfa harvest last year. There are a lot of people already out of feed. The normal comfort zone is to have a two to three-month inventory.

“Buyers are more than anxious to talk to anybody who will sell them dairy feed.”

Consumers at the grocery store may not see a severe uptick in prices since processing and shipping costs make up the bulk of prices consumers pay.

The first product to show an effect on prices will likely be ethanol, Brunnquell said.

Even if the crop makes it to harvest, the actual yield is unknown, Brunnquell said.

“First, I have to have confidence that it’s going to make it to maturity,” he said. “We really don’t know what the supply is going to be and what the demand will be.

“We’ll do everything we can to bring it to maturity. We just need a little help from Mother Nature.” 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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