Record cold weather has kept planted seeds from germinating but dry soil conditions have allowed field work and planting to progress faster than it has in years. Wet holes and areas of fields skipped during the previous year’s wet and late spring have now been planted this year.

Maybe it’s a blessing that planting was done into cold soils that held crop emergence back. The mornings around Mother’s Day saw mid-20-degree “freeze warning” conditions that would surely have affected emerged annual crops. It was not difficult to find frost-burnt tender alfalfa leaflets.

I have been keeping a record of soil temperatures; as recently as May 11 I was only able to record 41 degrees. I think soil temperatures fluctuate widely during the day and are greatly influenced by the time of day, soil type, orientation to the sun, soil tillage and many other factors. But the fact that no corn or soybean plants have emerged is attributable to the sustained less-than-normal soil temperatures.

Growing Degree Days for our area are reported behind 2019, and less than half of “normal.” This week’s forecasts are for a return to normal temperatures; we can expect crops to respond favorably.

During the past couple of weeks our local farmers were planting – small grains, new-seeding hay fields, potatoes, soybeans and lots of corn. During this hectic planting season I have observed a lot more no-till planting in our area; it seems like much more than I’ve seen in the past. The early green-up of cover crops seemed much more prevalent as well than in past years.

Soil-saving practices are attributable to Wisconsin Land & Water conservationists who have been teaching local farmers the benefits of improving soil health. Implementing soil building has had a boost from the many farmer-led groups that have been great at putting those conservational ideas into practice.

It’s encouraging to see the soil-saving practices because no-till planting saves fuel, protects surface waters and leads to healthier soil. The soil-building microorganism’s biggest enemy is steel, excess tillage, and practices that destroy and do not protect building soil organic matter.

Field-scouting planted corn or soybeans has been impossible because as of this writing neither of those crops have emerged. Small-grain fields, barley, oats and wheat have been emerging slowly; stands are even and looking very good.

Crop-scouting alfalfa has showed the plants have grown out of some of the slow over-wintering recovery symptoms observed earlier. They’re now competing with annual weeds quite well. My field observations have shown some isolated alfalfa-weevil larval feeding in some fields. But those incidences have been largely isolated to fields with south-facing slopes and sandy soils that have helped warm those areas earlier than other parts of fields.

The Wisconsin growing season is well underway. Given the returns to normal temperatures things will be developing quickly.

Tim Boerner is a career agronomist who has worked in many regions of Wisconsin. Currently serving farmers in northwest Wisconsin, he's advising growers on Integrated Pest Management techniques, writes Nutrient Management Plans, works on composting projects, and employs GPS soil and data collection for precision-ag implementation. He has a passion for clean-water advocacy.