A perfect storm

I think I want to share what seems to be like the “perfect storm”, though we can’t seem to get a storm this year. Or at least not where we need it.
The spring started off fairly early with cooler but drier conditions. Many farmers were on the land and crops were in the ground early, even with cooler temperatures. It warmed up nicely and things were growing even without a lot of moisture and along came a very hard frost. Hard enough that some grain producers replanted. Hard enough it froze out many grasses, alfalfa, and clovers. We often see a late frost but for the most part it doesn’t do this much damage to our crops. For as long as I have worked, I have never seen forage damage from a frost. We talked about it but at the same time we were talking about frost we were moving into some very dry times. I would easily say that every farmer at that point still thought it would rain, so you don’t give it a whole lot of thought.

Any of the alfalfa that survived was hit badly with the alfalfa weevil. The advice on how to control it is to cut it. This challenged many because the alfalfa was still short because we just hadn’t received the rain. We were still thinking we would get rain and most wanted to hold off and wait for it. The problem was the weevil was leaving nothing to be harvested. I should mention as well that alfalfa loves dry conditions, but it was struggling.

We then started to really feel the pressure from lack of rain. We had to get making hay, but the fields were terrible. Like I have mentioned before, most of these fields had a lot of dollars in fertilizer spread on them, but without the rain it was difficult to notice any results. People were talking about 50 to 75 per cent less hay yields.

There are stories of baling 60 acres and getting three bales. We were still expecting rain and holding off cutting because we all still had hopes that the rain would come, and things would thicken up.

On top of all these others issues along came the grasshopper that absolutely was enjoying eating up our dried up, miserable crops. Cash croppers were spraying to control many insects to their crops all summer long, and these are not cheap controls.

And one more element that has compounded all these other things is the incredible temperatures we have experienced. I love the heat, but it has certainly added to the drought. This brings us to today. Every livestock owner in the district is affected by this drought. Everyone is short of feed. Not only do we not have enough winter feed, our animals are out of grass now.

The best managed pastures are struggling because no matter how good you manage, Mother Nature has a part to play. Best case scenario I am hoping that we end of with half the cow numbers in the District, but I don’t know if we will. If we lose half the cow herd, that is nearly a loss of 10 million dollars of cattle sales.

By no means am I a big producer, but I want to use my numbers to explain the impact. I have 43 bred cows that I planned to keep this winter. The winter-feeding requirements for those animals (excluding bulls, replacement females and animals that I would normally feed for butchering – or my sheep, alpaca, goats, and horse) to be on the safe side would be 430 large round bales. I am roughly 200 short and that is only for winter feeding; not including supplementing now because the grass is dried up or ate up by the grasshopper.

In today’s market to purchase that amount of hay, I would be looking at nearly $30,000. That isn’t going to happen. I don’t have this kind of money and the truth is the cows / calves are not able to support that kind of a bill. Where does that leave me and every other farmer in the District? We will be forced to reduce our herds. Will it be easy? Absolutely not. Is it what we want? Absolutely not. I have fenced off some bush and the cows are still picking at some leaves. They are not happy, so I have decided to supplement by rolling out a bale for them. Is it smart? Not likely, but my plan is to rest my pasture for a bit and hope that we will get rain, (still have than in my plans) and we will have some grass growth. I will have to get rid of cows and sell calves early. Do I like it? Not at all, but we have been dealt this “perfect storm” and this is the cold hard truth. Just keep in mind, I am a small producer; my numbers are little compared to what others are facing right now.

Sparse pastures, insect infestations, hard frosts, crippling droughts and feed shortages, have created a crisis for our region’s crop and livestock farmers. The result will be millions of dollars out of the local economy, and a sector which could take years to recover. – Kim Jo Bliss photo