Snow is a mixed bless­ing for farm­ers

The re­cent cold weather brought both added mois­ture for crops and higher heat­ing bills.

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Kevin Myrick SJ Ed­i­tor

Snow is a mixed bless­ing for lo­cal farm­ers.

On the one hand, Polk County Ex­ten­sion Co­or­di­na­tor Ricky Ens­ley cites the pos­i­tive in­crease of the wa­ter ta­ble un­der fields to be tilled in the months to come as plant­ing sea­son ar­rives, giv­ing crops a chance to grow healthy be­fore the on­set of sum­mer heat. It is also good for lo­cal forests as well, en­sur­ing that fallen lives and pine nee­dles stay damp dur­ing oth­er­wise dry times.

“This is a wel­come re­lief for keep­ing us out of drought con­di­tions like we’ve seen in the past years,” Ens­ley said. “That’s the good part about the snow. It will def­i­nitely put the wa­ter down in the pas­tures and help us in the fu­ture.”

He added that “we’re lucky we don’t have any­thing in the fields right now” since frozen tem­per­a­tures would have dam­aged any crops in the ground.

One of the down­sides of the snow is the cold isn’t help­ing the win­ter heat­ing bills for cat­tle barns and chicken houses. The be­low-freez­ing tem­per­a­tures in Polk County over past weeks have driven up the amount of propane needed to keep build­ings warm for an­i­mals, who need it just as much as their keep­ers.

Ens­ley said the con­cern for lo­cal live­stock own­ers is mainly with their an­i­mals de­vel­op­ing respi­ra­tory dis­eases dur­ing the frigid con­di­tions, and tem­per­a­tures ex­ac­er­bat­ing their con­di­tions.

“This is a prob­lem any­time we have real cold tem­per­a­tures,” he said. “You have to re­mem­ber that cows and chick­ens and live­stock of all kind are just like us, and get sick dur­ing this time of the year too. They’re out­side more too, which puts them at greater risk. So there is al­ways the risk of los­ing an­i­mals to respi­ra­tory dis­eases, and the cold never helps.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, Ens­ley said the costs of feed­ing live­stock also hin­der farm­ing op­er­a­tions dur- ing colder tem­per­a­tures, since like peo­ple the an­i­mals on the farm burn more calo­ries to stay warm and thus re­quire ex­tra food.

Warmer tem­per­a­tures ahead help, but Ens­ley said that un­til spring farm­ers are re­quired to wait and see what fore­casts do in the weeks ahead, and see the over­all im­pact.

One prob­lem as the ther­mome­ter goes up this week and stays in the mild range for the days ahead ac­cord­ing to fore­casts at press time is there is the po­ten­tial for grass to wake up from a dor­mant stage.

If that hap­pens, and then a cold snap fol­lows it could cause fu­ture prob­lems of feed dur­ing the spring and sum­mer months as grass crops in pas­ture land have to catch up with con­di­tions.

Ens­ley said the hopes of cli­ma­tol­o­gists is for a warmer over­all win­ter, but that there are still the chance for cold snaps.

What lo­cal farm­ers would like to see in­stead is a grad­ual shift of con­di­tions from one sea­son to the next, Ens­ley said.

“We hope the fluc­tu­a­tion won’t stick around long,” he said.

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