Wisconsin Agriculture

Originally written February 1, 2006 | Last updated February 23, 2014

Wisconsin agriculture has a long and proud tradition. Currently it is ranked number 1 among U.S. states for dairy, sweet corn, and silage corn production. At one time it was the highest ranked state for wheat production. The soils of Wisconsin are diverse. Formed over thousands of years and carved by glaciers. It is on the edge of the Midwest Corn Belt and is challenged by cool, wet springs and dry, hot summers.


Ecology of Wisconsin
History of Grain Production in Wisconsin
New and Emerging technologies
Issues and Tensions faced by Wisconsin grain farmers
Significant Agronomic Historical Events in Wisconsin
PDF file of Slides

Top 10 Management and Technology Trends in Wisconsin

Transgenic crops
Pest management and pest resistance
Equipment changes in planting and harvesting
Pesticide contamination
Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia
On-going dairy farm transition
Conservation Tillage
Controlled wheel traffic
Increased inputs, i.e. fungicides, non-conventional soil amendments, micro nutrients

Previous trends influencing Wisconsin agriculture (Issues and Tensions)

Weather: Climate change
Brazilian soybean production
Information and knowledge
Sustainability of current Midwest cropping systems
Government programs
Corn seed treatments and Soybean inoculants

Ecology of Wisconsin


  • Major cities and markets - highways, railroads and sea ports
    • Sea ports: Superior, Green Bay, Milwaukee, Mississippi River, Illinois River
    • Dairy cows
    • Ethanol plants
  • Ecological landscape
  • Landforms

Climate and Weather of Wisconsin


  • August highs, January lows
  • Last Spring and First Fall Killing Frosts, USDA Plant Hardiness map
  • Maturity belts
    • Corn
    • Soybean
    • Winter wheat - Hessian fly



  • April through September rainfall for Wisconsin averages 21 inches (533 mm)


Usual Planting and Harvest Dates in Wisconsin
Crops Usual Planting Dates Usual Harvest Dates Principal Producing Areas
Begins Ends Begins Most Active Ends Districts Counties
Corn for grain April 25 June 10 Oct. 1 Oct. 15 - Nov. 15 Nov. 30 SC, WC, SW Dane, Rock, Grant
Corn for silage April 25 June 10 Sept. 10 Sept. 20 - Oct. 15 Nov. 1 EC, SC, SW Dane, Dodge, Clark
Oats April 1 May 25 July 20 July 30 - Aug. 25 Sept. 5 EC, WC, NC Marathon, Clark, Grant
Barley April 5 May 15 July 15 July 25 - Aug. 20 Sept. 1 NC, EC, NW Barron, Marathon, Clark
Rye Aug. 15 Oct. 1 July 5 July 15 - Aug. 5 Aug. 10 NC, C, WC Marathon, Waushara, Dunn
Winter wheat Sept. 5 Oct. 5 July 15 July 25 - Aug. 15 Aug. 20 EC, SC, SE Fond du Lac, Sheboygan, Manitowoc
Spring wheat April 5 May 15 July 25 Aug. 5 - Aug. 25 Sept. 1 NW, NE Barron, Oconto, Pierce
Soybeans May 5 June 30 Oct. 1 Oct. 15 - Nov. 1 Nov. 10 SC, SE, EC Rock, Dane, Walworth
Tobacco May 15 July 5 Aug. 15 Aug. 25 - Sept. 10 Sept. 25 SC, SW Dane, Vernon, Rock
Potatoes March 25 May 1 July 20 Aug. 15 - Oct. 1 Oct. 10 C, NE Portage, Adams, Waushara
Alfalfa Hay     June 1   Sept. 30 SW, EC, WC Grant, Marathon, Dane
All other Hay     June 10   Sept. 30 NW, NC, WC Marathon, Clark, Taylor
Mint April 20 June 1  July 10 July 25 - Aug. 25 Sept. 15 C, SC, SE Marquette, Jefferson, Walworth
Sweet corn May 5 June 30 Aug.5 Aug. 15 - Sept. 25 Oct. 5 C, EC, SC Portage, Waushara, Fond du Lac
Source: Wisconsin 1999 Agriculture Statistics

History of Grain Crop Production in Wisconsin

Harvested acreage of crops since 1866

  • Rock county changes

Corn yield since 1866

Crop value since 1950

Current Production Statistics

U.S. County acreage and yield of corn, soybean, wheat and oat

  • Wheat and oat acreage is decreasing but are still important for rotations.

Yield of corn, soybean, wheat and oat

Wisconsin's Rank in U.S. Crop Agriculture.
Commodity Rank among states Harvested Acres Unit Yield per Acre Production Dollar Value
    (thousands)     (thousands) (thousands)
Corn for grain 7 2,850 Bu. 143 407,750 753,968
Corn for silage 1 730 Ton 16.5 12,045 ---
Soybeans 12 1,300 Bu. 46 59,800 278,070
All wheat 33 127 Bu. 59 7,480 12,716
   Winter wheat --- 120 Bu. 60 7,200 12,240
   Spring wheat --- 7 Bu. 50 280 476
Oats 1 300 Bu. 62 18,600 18,600
Barley 16 65 Bu. 52 3,380 3,887
Rye 12 12 Bu. 32 384 576
Potatoes 3 85.0 Cwt. 400 34,000 188,700
Dry edible beans 15 8.0 Cwt. 15.5 124 2,765
All Hay 5 2,600 Ton 2.89 7,510  
   Alfalfa --- 2,100 Ton 3.10 6,510  
   All other --- 500 Ton 2.00 1,000  
Source: Wisconsin 1999 Agriculture Statistics

State Rankings for Crop Production.
Crop 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Corn for grain IA IL NE MN IN KS WI OH SD MI
Corn for silage WI NY CA MN PA IA MI NE SD ID
Source: Iowa 1999 Agriculture Statistics

Corn and soybean production potential

  • Francis Child's 2002 world record of 442 bu/A was set just across the WI/IA border.
  • Highest recorded corn and soybean yields in Wisconsin.

Years of record corn yields

Relative impact (% change) of management decisions on corn grain yield in WI

Hybrid: Top to bottom ranking = 0 to 30% yield change

  • Presence or absence of genetic traits = 0 to 100% yield change

Rotation: Continuous v. Rotation = 5 to 30% yield change

Soil Fertility: 160 v. 0 lb N/A = 20 to 50% yield change

Date of Planting: May 1 to June 1 = 0 to 30% yield change

  • Also need to add moisture penalty

Row spacing: 30-inches to 15-inches = 0 to 5% yield change

Pest control: Good v. Bad = 0 to 100% yield change

Cultivation: Yes v. No = 0 to 10% yield change

Harvest timing: Oct. 15 to Dec. 1 = 0 to 20% yield change

New and Emerging Technologies

Transgenic crops: GMOs

  • Corn: SuperStax
  • Soybean: RR, high oleic acid
  • Wheat: None
  • Alfalfa: hybrids recently developed by Dairyland Seed, Roundup Ready

Pest management and Pest resistance

Equipment changes in corn planting and harvesting

  • Plant population
  • Row spacing
  • Planting date

Pesticide contamination: Ground water quality and herbicide prohibition areas -Atrazine

Hypoxia in Gulf of Mexico and water quality

On-going dairy farm transition: CAFOs and Dairy expansions - Corn silage



Conservation tillage systems - No-till (soil conservation)


Controlled wheel traffic - Precision farming  "Success is proving elusive"


Increased inputs, i.e. fungicides, non-conventional soil amendments, micro nutrients

Previous trends influencing Wisconsin agriculture (Issues and Tensions)

Weather: Climate change

Brazilian soybean production

Information and knowledge

  • Land Grant system
  • Internet - Distance Diagnostics
  • Decision simulation software - ABCS, SELECT
  • UWEX, Farm and Industry Short Course, Ag Professionals, Diagnostic Training Center
  • Certified Crop Advisors

Sustainability of current Midwest Cropping Systems

Government programs - " Freedom to Farm", USDA Farm Bills

  • Nutrient management plans
  • Rural/Urban interface

Corn seed treatments and Soybean inoculants

Ag journalists name top 10 agricultural events between 1950 and 2000

derived from a survey of  North American Agricultural Journalists (NAAJ)

  1. Hybridization and other improvements of crops.
  2. Genetically modified crops that have been engineered to kill insect pests and tolerate herbicides. Most U.S. farmers adopted this technology in less than a decade, starting in the 1990s.
  3. The discovery of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the chemical building block of heredity, by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. These researchers discovered the ladder-like double helix structure of DNA, helping to start the biotechnology revolution now underway.
  4. Norman Borlaug's Green Revolution. Plant breeder Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 and now teaches at Texas A&M, developed high yielding dwarf wheat varieties that helped turn Third World countries such as India into food exporters.
  5. The agricultural debt crisis of the 1980s, which started when the Federal Reserve Bank encouraged higher interest rates to slow inflation. This forced many full-time family farms out of business, created rural bank failures, and crippled small towns.
  6. The 1962 publication of Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring. Carson, a nature writer and former marine biologist, documented how the insecticide DDT accumulates in the environment and harms mammals and birds.
  7. The use of antibiotics for livestock and poultry, approved by the Food and Drug Administration nearly 50 years ago. Adding antibiotics to the feed of hogs and chickens not only prevents diseases, it makes the animals grow faster. It also makes it easier to confine them in large buildings with fewer disease outbreaks.
  8. Tie. NAAJ members gave equal votes to two developments: the adoption of no-till farming, which avoids plowing and slows soil erosion, and the fact that the farm population dropped below 2% of U.S. population for the first time during the 1990s.
  9. The adoption of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer, a cheap source of nitrogen fertilizer made by using natural gas. Until anhydrous ammonia was adopted in the 1950s, farmers relied on animal manure and leguminous plants such as clover to provide this key plant food. Without cheap nitrogen, the high yields of hybrid corn and dwarf wheat would not have been possible.
  10. Integration of the poultry industry. Most farmers once owned a few chickens to raise for meat and eggs. In the 1960s, as chickens could be confined in large buildings thanks to antibiotics and abundant cheap corn, the ownership of chickens gradually concentrated with a few companies. Those companies pay farmers a fee for each bird they raise for the company. A similar process of vertical integration is taking place today in the hog industry.

Other key trends include:

  1. the increasing mechanization of agriculture in general;
  2. the U.S. grain export boom of the 1970s that followed sales to the former Soviet Union in 1972; and
  3. the elimination of rail freight subsidies for grain in Canada, which led to more exports of Canadian crops and livestock to the United States.

Significant Agronomic Historical Events in Wisconsin

History of the Land Grant System

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