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Awash in water: Heavy rains, waterlogged fields raise crop concerns

posted: September 10. 2018 09:53a CST
by / Brooke Bechen, Regional Editor |

Persistent, prolonged and heavy rain has continued to pummel Wisconsin, prompting flash flood and areal flood warnings across the state for the past three weeks. Several school districts in southwest Wisconsin canceled their first day of classes on Sept. 4 due to water on roads, with state officials, homeowners and farmers alike concerned about the floodwaters as they continued to rise.

Most frustrating to many farmers has been the inability to get into wet fields to complete the corn silage harvest.

“The corn silage crop is ready now; it’s a matter of being able to get out there in the fields,” said Joe Lauer, a UW-Madison agronomy professor and corn production expert.

Getting the fields dried out enough to avoid compaction next year is another challenge, as well as getting crops forced down by high wind, rain and floodwaters to stand back up again. Crops that are broken over or tipped over might be able to bounce back, if they are green enough, Lauer said, but the timing of these weather events so late in the year has certainly taken a toll.

“Last time flooding like this happened was in June 2008,” he said. “So this is kind of a challenge because it is so late in the season and crops won’t have time to recover.

“Many fields still haven’t come back yet and there will be a lot of problems when getting those crops out of the field.”

There also are contamination concerns with corn; contaminated corn cannot be sold commercially. Elevators will be on high alert this year, and Lauer predicts kernel processing will be key as this year’s harvest season gets more and more delayed.

“We just really need some dry weather,” he said.

Shawn Conley, a UW-Madison associate professor and soybean, small grains and seeds expert, has concerns about yield loss in this year’s soybean crop. Soybean crops submerged for more than 72 hours will die, especially with the heat that has also accompanied recent storms. Yield also will be affected by soybeans that are partially submerged due to flash flooding.

“A lot of wet holes and dead spots in fields — I think we’ll see a lot of that,” he said.

Flash flooding has also swept more dirt and debris into fields — material that sticks on the leaves of soybeans. Producers could be docked at the elevator if they fail to get the dirt off, with Conley suggesting farmers know which elevators will have the highest dockage for dirty soybeans.

Like the corn crop, soybeans that have been impacted by high winds, rain and flooding have the potential to bounce back up. Soybeans have a little more time to recuperate, but Conley has heard a lot of farmers say the crop just isn’t rebounding.

Conley also worries about dead soybeans; not only are they dirty and gross, but there may be pathogens lingering on the dead material. He recommends farmers focus on air filtration in their combines; operators may even want to wear a mask inside the combine to lower the risk of inhaling toxic mold.

He shares Lauer’s concerns about getting into the fields too quickly, as compaction issues can carry years into the future. He advises farmers to be cautious.

“If you think it’s ready, wait a day,” he said. “Sometimes, we need to be patient.”

Producers suffering loss and damage of any kind, whether it’s structural or related to crops, land or animals, due to recent weather events are encouraged to reach out to their local Farm Service Agency office. Resources are available at​recover.

Several FSA disaster recovery assistance programs are available, including Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish; the Livestock Indemnity Program; the Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program; the Tree Assistance Program; the Emergency Loan Program; the Emergency Forest Restoration Program; and the Emergency Conservation Program.

UW-Extension, in cooperation with the UW-Center for Agricultural Safety and Health, is also compiling a list of resources for farmers. Those resources can be accessed at https://​​agemergency.

Submitted photo - Rainwater flowed into a barn at Durst-Larse Farms near Richland Center, where corn silage harvest last week came to a screeching halt. Just to the north of the farm, other families fared much worse, as fields were flattened and cows had to be evacuated.
Photo by Drew Dettmann - Carrie Mess, aka “Dairy Carrie,” of Lake Mills shared this picture on Facebook, captured via drone, of flooded fields at her farm. Some fields were only accessible by boat. “Things are going to get worse before they get better,” she said. “A few of our fields will likely be lost.”
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