Take a drive into a remote area of the country and pull up next to a corn field. Put the windows down; turn off the engine and cell phone. Hear that sound? It’s the corn growing.
Wisconsin is in a prolonged heat wave; the corn has jumped a good 2-3 feet in the past 10 days. In north-central Wisconsin the frequent 90-degree temps coupled with copious amounts of rain before the hot conditions have produced ideal growing conditions for corn and soybeans. Small-grain seedings are in the late-boot to early-headed stages. Some winter-rye stands are nearly ripe, with seed heads bowed under the weight of their kernels.
Fields are ornate with round bales. Pasture-based farms have clipped excess pasture growth and can be certain regrowth will be rapid. Most farmers have put away their tractors for a respite before beginning second crop. The road ditches are a mix of milkweed, day lilies and trefoil while the wild plums are setting flowers.
I headed east July 9 on Wisconsin Highway 29 to meet with Dan Olson, who runs a diverse dairy operation near Lena, Wisconsin. He has an organic dairy farm and a conventional dairy about 10 minutes apart. Total milk-cow numbers are about 350 for both farms. He runs 1,500 acres, 1,000 of which are certified-organic. He also does some organic cash cropping.
“I have a hard time justifying growing conventional corn for cash cropping considering the market,” he said.
He puts a big emphasis on producing a variety of forages including Brown Midrib Sorghum Sudangrass and annual “cocktail” mixes. Cover-crop “cocktails” consist of eight or more species chosen to maximize diversity. A popular mix is to combine Sorghum Sudangrass with Italian ryegrass and annual clovers such as berseem.
“We use the cocktail mixes for a variety of reasons,” Olson said. “They’re good for soil health in our crop rotations. It’s like a full-season cover crop that you harvest numerous times through the summer.”
They’re excellent-quality forage for a dairy herd.
“They’re great in our lactating rations,” he said.
He has research plots on his farm to test forage varieties for his consulting business, Forage Innovations. He does on-farm consulting in a 22-state area through his business.
“Right now there are 60 varieties of corn along with 30 warm-season annual plots,” he said. “Generally what we do with the plots is start very small and go bigger with varieties that look promising. Our ‘Yield Max,’ which is our most popular mix, started as a 10-by-10 plot. Then I planted 100 acres for one year on my farm. Then in the third year we used it on 30,000 acres of my consulting farms.”
The season began dry this year but then his area had 15 inches of rain in the second half of May.
“As it stands we’re looking at a really good year for forage production,” he said. “Everything has really come around with the surge in temperatures.”