Abnormally dry conditions over the past two months have put parts of Wisconsin back in a drought and ruined some state farmers’ expectations of a bountiful harvest this fall.
The western part of the state, where more than 80 percent of the topsoil has either short or very short moisture levels, already is in a drought, according to data from the National Weather Service.
The NWS is expected to classify southern parts of the state, including Dane and counties to its west and southwest, as experiencing moderate drought conditions perhaps as soon as this week.
The drought conditions will drop the soybean and corn yields by 10 to 15 percent, according to Stan McGraw, an agronomist for Madison-based cattle feed company Vita Plus.
Lack of moisture stymied the growth of the kernels inside the ears of corn, and that will affect the weight of the yield, McGraw said.
Also, some bean plants lost pods because of the lack of moisture and they are already starting to die.
So the wet, cool early growing season that gave the corn and soybeans a great start in this area and led experts to forecast near record harvests went for naught.
“We’ve gone from a phenomenal crop to an average crop,” McGraw said.
It might be lower than average for some farmers in the southwest corner of the state that have corn on dry hills, according to Mark Mayer, the agriculture agent for UW-Extension’s Green County office.
He said this year’s yield will be much better than last year’s drought-plagued 77 bushels per acre, but could be less than the annual average of around 160 bushels an acre.
“Some of the (corn in valleys) will do 200. Some of the hill corn will be 50. It’s going to be all over the place,” he said.
Mayer said he watched corn wilt last week as temperatures soared near 100 degrees.
“The corn started looking like it did last year, only it was taller,” he added.
That’s bad news for state farmers, because corn prices continue to drop due to expected record yields in other Corn Belt states like Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
But soybean futures for November delivery jumped 2.2 percent Tuesday on the Chicago Board of Trade because dry conditions are affecting soybean production around the Midwest.
Monroe received just 3.1 inches of rain in July and August, 5.5 inches less than average for that two-month period, according to the Weather Service.
Similar rainfall amounts could be found in the western and central parts of the state.
“We were looking like the Garden of Eden down here earlier this summer. Then came July and August with heat and no rain and everything changed,” Mayer said.
It’s not expected to get better anytime soon. The short-range forecast calls for continued dry conditions and higher-than-average temperatures, according to Sarah Marquardt, a meteorologist for the Weather Service’s Sullivan office.
But any rain in the near future won’t help this year’s crop.
“Theoretically, the damage has already been done,” said McGraw of Vita Plus. “It will help the alfalfa and pastures and it will help re-charge the moisture.”
But some farmers are giving up on getting a fourth cutting of hay this year, and many pastures are turning to dust, Mayer said.
That exacerbates problems for dairy farmers. They need the hay to feed their cattle and were already short because of last year’s drought.
Mayer shuddered at the thought of where area farmers would be today without the early-season rainfall, particularly in June, that recharged the subsoil.
“If we hadn’t had that rainfall we would have been right back where we were last year, if not worse,” he said.