A drought will scare a farmer to death, a flood will starve him to death. This is an old saying that accurately indicates the impact of wet weather. With last year we need to redefine wet for a number of areas for how deep the water was on the field. In the worse areas farms are short or potentially short on forage. For emergency forage, decisions need to be made NOW. Schedule SOON a detail meeting with your nutritionist to see exactly how much forage you will have and how far it will go with your rations. Make adjustments now and develop contingency plans for this next season.
We have had more than 4 years of very adverse economy in the dairy industry. Farmers have tightened their belts until it touches their backbone. Making it though will mean every part of the farm system needs scrutiny. One area is in the cropping program, where more than 40 years ago an agriculture banker said it was the biggest hidden profit loss on the farm, and often is still today. Livestock need forage. Growing it needs to cost less than purchased. Unfortunately many farms have fallen back to short cuts that are very expensive.
The heat of summer has been a real crop saver. Many of the days of the northeast and north central were 80-85F which is maximum for corn to grow at. With a cool – cold spring and rain delays, this greatly helped the late planted corn to make up considerable time by maximum growing degree day accumulation. Unfortunately, some in the hardest hit areas will never make maturity for silage or grain.
Harvest is approaching. For many it will be very different from the past. A number of farms are growing sorghum or sorghum species for the first time. Its harvest timing is very different than corn silage if you want to get it right. In addition, there was a lot of corn silage planted in June and July. This corn could be very immature when it is harvested. Compounding that problem, multiple weather reports are saying that as this is a solar minimum year, cool to cold temperatures will return with a vengeance and the possibility of an early frost or freeze is above average. With the immature/late planted corn, this is not what we need. Immature corn silage is a lot like sorghum or sorghum-Sudan. It will be a wet, higher sugar, low starch forage. Chopping this with a short length of cut, and worse – processing, will produce forage the consistency of applesauce or soup. This is not beneficial to good fermentation, high milk components, or preserving nutrients (lost leachate is 100% digestible). The good news is that there are steps you can take to minimize these potential problems.
As the screwed-up season continues into a bigger mess, more farms have come to the realization that their first cutting is much less than expected due to extensive legume stand loss over the winter. The crop did not come back. Those with alfalfa and grass are much better off as the grass can be fed with nitrogen and sulfur. Fertilizer combined with the cool temperatures and copious rainfall, could give you almost the same yearly yield providing you are mowing at 4 inch cutter bar height.
Don’t panic. I wrote last year: “This season has seen much of the Northeast and Northcentral with one of the latest dates to start planting corn.” Well, this year will be as late as last year and we had some very good corn silage crops last year (if you were able to get them out of the field).
Not good news. The cool (cold in some areas) and wet is slated to continue. Europe is having some of the same conditions with winter snows still coming down in low elevations and southern areas. The concern is that the weather is due to the sunspot output going into a major naturally occurring decline. When this happens, the magnetic sphere (a magnetic envelope extending from the sun out covering the earth as it were) shrinks. This allows intergalactic rays to bombard the earth. These rays are at very high levels now. They produce clouds. Clouds do two things. First, they reflect heat from the sun away from the earth, cooling it. Second, clouds produce rainfall. We have had both. Neither have anything to do with political climate change. This has happened before during the “little ice ages” in Europe during the late middle ages (1500-1800,) and the dark ages (300-500). There was widespread crop failure and subsequent famines. Will it be that bad again? I don’t know but the real weather scientists are starting to say it is following the same weather pattern in this sun spot minimum.
The horrible weather last fall is having a lasting effect. A number of farms did not get their last cutting of haylage. Even worse, corn planted for silage was left in the field until the ground froze and then combined. Both of these factors are leaving farms this spring short of forage. Some are only partly short, while others are seriously short on forage and may have to cull animal to meet feed needs. What are the fastest crops to grow in 2019?
This fall was the toughest for establishing winter forage in the 20 years I have been researching the crop. Each year there is a crop that the weather takes particular delight in hammering—this year it was winter forage. Corn did not come off until mid October and the fields were a rutted mess that needed to be smoothed. Winter came at a normal time (instead of late as it had been doing) with most areas getting significant snow by Thanksgiving. Some stands I have seen have 1 plant/ft. square. A few farms though, have winter forage planted on time and doing very well.
This sounds like a dumb question, but it is very apropos. It happens on farms all across the northeast and Midwest. Real farmers grow corn and alfalfa, so they do. Multiple years of corn makes drainage worse as the soil structure collapses and machinery compaction squeezes out what little porosity the soil originally had. In Canada, on silt soils, they now tile on 25 ft space as 50 ft no longer works because of compaction and over worked soils. As I mentioned in the November issue, 15 years of alfalfa grass sod did not remove the yield and root limiting pan that restricted roots to only 7 inches of soil. It was like a paved road underneath. Nearly every, somewhat poorly drained or silty/clay, field I have dug in has a yield/ root/drainage limiting compaction when it was plowed while too wet sometime in the past .