Central-Wisconsin farmers have experienced a broad range of weather conditions the past two weeks. Temperatures bounced from less than normal to spikes of heat in the upper-80s.

With most first-crop alfalfa-grass mixtures sealed in silos and silage bags, many worked to make grassier stands into dry hay. The countryside was embellished with fields of hay raked into a tapestry; balers were busy.

Two rainfall events in the 3-inch range made that challenging. Those who took an early first crop in hopes of tilling in the residue and establishing summer annuals found conditions challenging, with fields too wet to be worked. Those who managed to plant summer annuals are seeing standing water in their newly planted fields. Organic farmers who can’t use herbicides in their corn fields are forced to wait until cultivating can take place. Conventional corn growers wait for fields to be able to support their spraying rigs.

The sandy soils of the Central Sands region are a different story. With potatoes and canning crops planted ahead of schedule, irrigation units are at work. Crops are faring nicely. Alex Okray of Okray Family Farm near Plover, Wisconsin, provided an update for the potato-canning crop operation. The Okray farm consists of 8,000 acres. Crops grown include red and yellow Russet potatoes for fresh-market sales along with corn, beans and peas for canning. Okray said conditions are ideal for establishing crops this spring. He echoed the sentiment of farmers across central Wisconsin that they are overdue for good conditions after the past-two challenging years.

Okray Family Farms has worked since 2000 with the University of Wisconsin-Hancock Agricultural Research Station to find innovative ways to solve a problem common to the Central Sands region – soil erosion. The Okrays have added 25 miles of windbreaks along their farm’s production fields.

Climate change is also a focus of the research station.

“We need to remain on the cutting edge of technology during this time of rapid climate change,” said Dick Okray, Okray Family Farms president.

Alex Okray said the farm saw an increase in sales early in the pandemic, with a peak during March and April. Since then sales have returned to normal.

Back at my woodlot the rain gauge shows 3.25 inches as this crop report goes to print. Most farms in the north-central part of Wisconsin will be playing a waiting game before heading back to the fields to finish any remaining haying or field work as July comes knocking at the door.

Greg Galbraith, a former dairy farmer who owns woodlot property in eastern Marathon County, writes about the rapidly changing nature of the agricultural landscape. He has built a lifetime connection to the land and those who farm it.