Volatile weather sets back farm operations

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Hillary Gavan/Beloit Daily News Brennan Walsh uses a planter on a field off of Duggan and Townline roads in Rock Township on Wednesday. Many farmers have struggled to finish their planting with the recent rain showers. Fortunately it didn't rain on Wednesday in the Rock Township area and the Walshes' planter can plant 24 rows at a time.

"It's kind of like going to Ho-Chunk when you farm. It's a gamble."

That's what farmer John Quinn said about dealing with the frequent rain showers interrupting corn planting this year. He, like many area farmers, has been dodging rain drops and trying time after time to get in the field for planting.

"It's not that we've had so much rain as it is the frequency. It rains so often it stops you from doing things and you can't get out there," Quinn said.

Quinn, who works with someone to plant his corn at his farm north of Footville, said the planter started on Monday night but got rained out before planting an acre's worth of corn.

"We got in the field and it just started to pour," he said.

On Wednesday, he was hoping the rain showers would stay away long enough for him to plant 10 acres.

Quinn has 75 acres for corn, 55 acres for soybeans and 15 acres for hay. He typically plants corn in early April or mid May. Although it's a little late for planting, he said it should be alright if he can get done soon.

However, with lots of clay in the soil, Quinn's fields retain moisture.

"When it's wet like this, you compact the dirt, and the planter fills up with mud and nothing wants to work right," Quinn added.

If the rains keep coming, Quinn said he might have to resume planting next week. The danger, he said, is that corn won't be dry enough when it's harvested. When corn is wet and heavy, farmers have to pay more money to dry it, resulting in less money earned for the corn.

Quinn said his planter was able to work by Milton, and he noted some areas north are drier.

"It's spotty. You don't even know where the drier spots are, but I think a little north has had a little less rain," Quinn said.

Mark Gunn, of O'Leary Gunn Farms, has a farm west of Janesville with a little more than 4,000 crop acres. He has 2,000 acres of corn planted, with 500 acres left to go. Half of his 1,500 acres of soybeans have been planted.

He said corn planting began in the last week in April and is hoped to be finished by Memorial Day weekend.

"We plant for three days and then are off for another three to four days. It seems like every time a cell comes through, we get hit with rain," Gunn said. "The window for planting corn is starting to become very narrow for the greatest yield potential."

However, Gunn said there could be a benefit by having the crop spread out when isolated storms come through as the crop is maturing.

Some farmers, however, were having good luck despite the erratic weather.

Walsh Family Farms, for example, had planted 1,340 acres of corn with only 3 percent more left to plant. Some of their corn is two inches tall already, according to farmer Chris Walsh.

The bulk of their farm is in the Town of Turtle, with some rented farmland in the Town of Rock and surrounding areas.

She said the Walsh farmers started planting three weeks ago. She said her son Aaron Walsh and other family members are extreme weather watchers, and were able to take advantage of every opportunity to plant.

"We had two good first days, then two weeks of rain and then two more good days," Chris Walsh said. "Because of the weather patterns we had to take advantage and move when we could."

Chris Walsh attributes their success, in part, to doing fall tillage to ensure the ground can properly drain prior to planting.

"It takes an enormous amount of planning and that's what Aaron does," Chris Walsh said.

Walsh Family Farms also has a 24-row wide planter which can get a lot of corn planted quickly. On Tuesday, Walsh Family Farms had Tom Walsh tilling, Brennan Walsh planting and Jeff Foxin managing seed.

The fifth generation farm also benefits from extra helpers including Dr. Lauren Walsh and her husband Rob Weyker who pitch in on the weekends.

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