The Wisconsin River is running high along its banks; the boat landing near my apartment parking lot is under water again. North-central Wisconsin has seen its share of heat and humidity coupled with frequent storms as July progresses.
I hopped in my truck July 20 to head north of Wausau to visit Heinz and Erich Roth who farm just outside the town proper of Merrill, Wisconsin. Heading north on County Road K the road is like a great rollercoaster. I crested the high ground and descended repeatedly. The rooftops of steel sheds glowed in the sun between fields of mown second-crop alfalfa, tasseled corn and vast wooded acreage. Summer’s in full swing in north-central Wisconsin.
“We just got our second cutting on 350 acres of a ‘cocktail blend’ of summer annuals packed in a bunker silo yesterday,” Heinz Roth told me over the phone as I scheduled our meeting. “We covered it in the rain and eventually got 4 inches in the rain gauge after it was sealed up.”
Heinz and Erich Roth are brothers who own Roth Farms and Morning View Dairy near Merrill. They raise crops on 1,100 acres of land, including 650 acres of corn and 350 acres of summer annuals in a cocktail blend of sorghum sudangrass along with a mix of clovers and grasses. The balance of their land is in grass or clover hay stands. Harvesting goes quickly because the brothers use two tractor-mower rigs that each cut 30 feet of forage in a swath for eventual chopping. The Roths also do some custom operating in the neighborhood.
Heinz Roth showed me the almost-empty manure lagoon behind freestall barns that house as many as 500 cows.
“This is the best part of growing summer annuals,” he said. “In a five-cut system there’s plenty of opportunity to get the lagoon emptied on the land after harvesting the annuals. It also makes great feed.”
The brothers’ reaction to this year’s growing season was overwhelmingly positive.
“Growing-degree days are way up especially compared to last year,” Heinz Roth said. “Our corn is fully tasseled and we’re on pace to chop for silage in September rather than starting in mid-October like last year.”
I left Morning View Dairy for the 30-minute drive to my woodlot. Corn ranged from full tassel to chest-high on later-planted fields. Oats and barley were fully headed; some was nearing maturity. I swung past a remote field of low ground where I at one time made canary-grass hay for bedding and heifer hay for my cattle. It hadn’t been harvested yet; with the amount of rain the area is having it may never be cut. That marginal ground is an exception because most farmers are having a terrific forage-growing season, well into making second crop especially on alfalfa ground.
After tending to my gardens at the woodlot I headed to the apartment where the parking lot was slick with fresh rain. Earthworms worked their way across the warm wet black top.