Farm Management Minute: Diversity in your 2015 toolbox
April 24, 2015
Over the years I admit to taking our high school graduation class's motto a bit too far sometimes, but I feel the dry conditions we're experiencing have such merit. We received approximately three tenths of an inch of greatly appreciated rainfall Saturday April 18 from a 100 percent chance of rain for 2 days. My how the air freshened though. When I occasionally hear the daily weather almanac quite often the record highs were set in 1932-1936. My father and uncles talked about those years many times. I faintly remember 1976 by the short feed resources. 1988, 2002, 2006 and 2012 ring a bell for myself as being extremely dry and hot while operating our farm. Has the tomorrow came today? It very well could be, but as I write this column in a 5 week rotation, roads may be flooded by my next time!
What did we learn from those years? 1.) Tillage passes lose moisture; minimize trips across the field. But, if necessary, time them together with planting. When they used to cultivate three times with those big shovels it is no wonder the soil dried out, but that was the only weed control available. 2.) Selection of a variable crop input lineup incorporating some "defensive" seed genetics for dry conditions. 3.) Many of the "sure thing" yield enhancers cannot help if no moisture is available and the crop shuts down. Also, as I've stated before, watch the cost vs. premium value of any extra products with the lower commodity prices.
On the livestock end, be prepared to use alternative feed sources; with the ingredient testing and ration formulation now available, cows can certainly thrive on other things than grass and hay. The Russian thistles they gathered from the fencelines in the 1930s could be the dry matter base of a ration blended with silage or wet distillers grain in our modern mixer wagons. Rotational grazing of pastures, utilizing annual forages and cover crops, and partial drylot feeding can enhance the traditional mindset of turning them out to grass. You may incur some added expenses providing water to pastures this summer, but think of the fuel and feed costs that were saved this past winter to offset that. The cow/calf producer is being well rewarded now for the extra efforts and diligence to keep herd numbers intact through the drought of 2012. I apologize to victims of the Atlas storm of 2013 who saw those efforts waned by an event so far out of their control.
On a positive note, Mitchell is only 1.35 inches below normal for the calendar year (Sioux Falls-2.58 inches, Watertown -2.05 inches). We can easily make that up in a common spring rain. Yes, I know snow melt is what fills stockdams and we've missed that. In contrast to the proverb stated above, in the timeframe that we've worried about drought: 1.) Excellent weather has prevailed for calving and livestock performance in commonly muddy yards. 2.) Roads and bridges are extending their life from no flooding. 3.) The psychology of the grain markets during reports of weather patterns could fill your marketing orders while you are busy planting.