It seems that last year’s wet spring may be the cause for this year’s drought. Learn why in this CBC Article Hot, dry summer causing ‘weather whiplash’
We’ve been archiving old newsletters and found this article from 1990. Both excessive rain and drought are frustrating, but equipping yourself to handle both can be crucial to your farm!
LESSONS FROM LAST YEAR – The dangers of A wet Spring – by Bernhard Hack (February 1990)
Each year is a learning experience. We should take the opportunity to learn from mistakes, so that we can try to avoid them in the future. On my visits to farms last year as an advisor I noticed a number of things from which all could learn.
Due to last years extended rainy season in late spring and early summer, farmers became very nervous about cutting hay. Immediately after the first gleam of sunshine many started to cut their forage. Acceding to the date on the calendar they were starting very late. But plants depend much more on the available sunlight for assimilation and growth than on the calendar. Cutting this immature forage immediately following the rainy season had a detrimental effect in many ways.
The soil was too moist to stand the heavy hay cutting equipment. Cutting at this time delayed the soil’s drying because there was no canopy of living forage plants to use this moisture. The results were heavy tracks of soil compaction where all plants, mainly alfalfa were badly hurt and next year only dandelions will be seen. One could see dying yellow alfalfa plants regrowing on the tracks. Remarkably, the soil not only impacted downwards but sideways as well.
Another factor is that during that period of rain and overcast skies, the plant’s ability to manufacture carbohydrates, other nutrients through photosynthesis slowed down. If the plants were cut before they had a chance to use the sunny days to make these nutrients then the quality of the hay would be poor. This results in low milk yields while this poor quality hay is being fed. Farmers who allowed their hay fields to benefit for a week or so from the mature protein and a high content of nutrients (carbohydrates and sugars)/ Also trace minerals were incorporated in the forage during the blooming process. Also, leaving plants to use up the moisture avoided soil compaction.
The protein Question:
Protein in forage is measured through the nitrogen although we know that nitrogen is not necessarily protein.
Let’s consider a living plant. An annual emerges using the seed energy, while a perennial plant regrow this supported by energy stored in the root system. Both types of plants use stored energy to develop the first stages of growth. Then the green leaves assimilate nutrients and support the next stages of growth. When the blossom stage is reached a plant’s growth ends and all assimilated nutrients are stored in the plant’s structure to foster, in a later stage, the development of seeds.
Indicators For Forage Maturity:
We have balance nutrients and fiber, remembering the fiber plays an important role in butterfat production. While the blossom stage is one indicator of when to cut hay, another one is the appearance of regrowth at the root crown of the blossoming alfalfa plant. Regrowth of the second or third cutting will have the same conditions at the first growth in spring. It is supported by nutrients stored in the root system.
Knowing these facts, farmers will be able to use common sense about when to cut hay, allowing their cows to be healthy and to grow older. In Eastern Ontario I met an old farmer 76 years old still milking 18 cows. He started haying only when all other farmers had finished. He was reported by his neighbors as having trouble drying up his cows. This extreme could give us some food for thought.
Another very common problem for farmers this year was the yellowing of barely. Spring grain which were not planted before the heavy rain, was planted in very moist soil conditions causing severe compaction. Farmers complained about the yellow looking and poorly growing barley. They also observed the soil to be dry when tiling. A few rows of barley along the fence line proved the opposite. Tilling equipment is much wider than the tractor so a few rows of barley were saved from tracks and compaction. These areas showed healthy and vigorous growth of more than double the amount of suffering barely where the compaction has occurred. Another striking example was seen on a field that looked like a chessboard with very Small Square of barely. The farmer confirmed he had crisscrossed the field when tilling. This meant that some squares had not been compacted by the wheels. Remember compaction spreads sideways as well.
In this case another detrimental factor came into play. This field was the farthest from the barn and since clearing the land possibly never received the benefit of recycling organic matter in the form of manure which in turn is able to buffer adverse effects of compaction.
In cases of moist soil conditions that motto should be: “Work rather late than wet”.