Rain is a Tricky Thing

We’ve all heard the Luke Bryan song “Rain is a Good Thing”. While it may be a catchy lyric, lack of rain can cause livestock producers to suffer from drought and heat stress issues, while too much rain can leave farmers dealing with flood damage.  This year has been especially testing from those aspects.  The southwest is on fire.  Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico and areas of Texas, Kansas and Missouri are suffering from extreme drought and wildfires with surrounding areas battling through severe and moderate drought conditions.

DroughtMapJuly19
http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/CurrentMap.aspx

In contrast, there have been 6 major flooding events due to excessive rain which have been declared disaster states this summer.  There is no denying drought is difficult to handle, but flooding can be just as destructive with obstacles of its own.

flood timeline

To summarize the timeline above:

  • May 30 – Tropical Storm Alberto’s heavy rainfall lead to flash flooding in 10 southeastern states.
  • June 18 – Heavy rainfall in a short period of time lead to flooding mostly affecting the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and parts of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota.
  • June 20 – Heavy rainfall resulted in river levels rising and floods in northwest Iowa and southeastern South Dakota.
  • June 21 – Some areas of Texas received more than 10 inches of rain in a 48-hour period resulting in flooding.
  • July 3 – Torrential rains resulted in flooding in southern Minnesota.
  • July 17- Heavy rain resulted in flash flooding in Washington D.C. and Massachusetts.

Rain resulting in flooding has several destructive effects on agriculture.  First, damage to infrastructure such as roadways and powerlines.  Dirt and gravel roads may get washed away during a flood, which will limit a livestock producer from checking and accessing animals.  In the event of an evacuation often the animals are unfortunately left to fend for themselves.  It is a challenge to put those access points back in place to get any operation up and running after the flooding.  There will likely be damage to other assets as well such as outbuildings and machinery.

Second, the flood waters may carry sand and other debris with it.  This debris will settle on top of fields and may result in a barrier to the soil, creating a challenge when trying to plant crops or maintain a pasture.  Removing the debris and sand can be financially exhaustive and labor intensive.

Third, heavy rainfall producing floods will likely erode the soil and carry away valuable top soil.  The erosion itself, will leave gaps and divots in fields making the next planting season more difficult with new obstacles in fields.  The loss of top soil means the soil in the field will have less nutrients and likely will have lost aspects related to a healthy soil including structure and beneficial microorganism populations such as mycorrhizal fungi.  It will be important for crop producers and pasture managers to consult with soil health experts such as Lance Gunderson or Emily Shafto at Ward Laboratories Inc. to replenish nutrients and rebuild soil health after a flooding event.

Fourth, if there were standing crops or forages in a field during a significant rain and flood event, those crops and forages likely are damaged.  Powerful rains and hail can physically damage plants.  Therefore, if harvesting for grain or planning to feed these crops or forages mold and mycotoxins should be tested.  Additionally, corn, sorghum, oats, and other nitrate accumulating forages should be tested for nitrates due to the additional stress from flooding.

Finally, field operations may be hindered.  Planting, and harvesting of crops may be delayed due to wet sloppy fields.  If the areas affected produce hay, harvesting, drying and baling all present unique obstacles.

In conclusion, rain is not always a good thing.  Too little leaves us with droughts and too much results in devastating floods.  Always consider the obstacles of these disastrous events and make a plan before they happen to avoid panic when natural disasters occur.

More Resources:

Flood List

Farming After Flooding 

The Impact of Extreme Weather Events on Agriculture in the United States

iGrow Flood Resources

 

It’s Not What You Know It’s Who You Consult

As I was traveling last week to Minnesota for Foss NIR training, I happened to catch an interview with Ray Gaesser, a candidate for the nomination of the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture.  Currently, Gaesser is the president of the American Soybean Association.  During the interview Gaesser stated that while he may have held many positions in soybean associations and spent many years farming in Iowa, he does not know all there is to know about agriculture, but he knows someone in each sector of the industry that does know about their area of agriculture.  This idea of not knowing yourself, but having someone to consult describes the culture here at Ward Laboratories Inc.  We have professional staff to consult on a variety of agricultural topics.

ray-ward

Ray Ward is the founder of Ward Laboratories Inc.  He has been consulting with customers since the ’80s and has developed a reputation of providing solid information for the best possible decisions for a farming enterprise.  Dr. Ward is very knowledgeable, with a B.S. and M.S. in Soil Science and a Ph.D. in Plant Science. He advises customers as to best fertilization practices, no-till farming, cover crop use, plant health issues, water testing and monitoring, and more.  Farmers and ranchers often turn to Dr. Ward’s experience and expertise when they encounter an unusual problem or issue.

nick-ward

Nick Ward is the president of Ward Laboratories Inc., he has earned his Ph.D. in Agronomy and is a trusted resource for many local agronomist, and helps customers make planting decisions and solve plant health issues.  Sometimes, people even bring in sick plants and he can help them solve the issue in the login room.  In addition to Dr. Nick Ward, Hannah Gaebel and Terry Buettner are support agronomists and they play a huge role by going out and visiting customers.  Hannah has a Bachelor’s in Agronomy and Terry has been involved in the agriculture industry for about 34 years.

 

 

Emily Shafto has authored a couple blog posts related to soil health.  Farmers and ranchers who are dedicated to taking care of their land from a soil health perspective can consult with either Emily, who has a Master’s Degree in Natural Resources or Lance Gunderson, who is currently working on a Ph.D. in Soil Microbial Ecology.  Both are great resources for help interpreting Haney or PFLA soil analysis results and generally gaining a better understanding of how various farming practices such as tilling or cover crops affects the soil below.

jeremy

Another person who is a huge asset to our lab is our lab manager Jeremy Dalland, he earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology and then worked his way through the lab from lab tech to his current position.  He is a self-taught resource to all things soil, water, fertilizer, manure, and feed analysis. If you have ever called the lab while I’m out chances are Jeremy helped you with your livestock feeding questions.

me and keno

If you follow this blog, then you know I am the Animal Scientist and I am available to consult on interpretation of feed and NIR samples.  I also help producers solve animal nutrition and health issues.  Mineral issues and sub-clinical illnesses potentially brought on by moldy feeds are common situations producers seek my guidance on.  Helping with diet formulations and supplementation strategies are also topics I commonly discuss with customers.  In addition to earning a Master of Animal Sciences in Ruminant Nutrition and my working experience at the US Meat Animal Research Center, I commonly attend educational meetings and take advantage of extension events.

I am not the only one who attends these events, Dr. Ray Ward, Dr. Nick Ward, Lance, Emily, Hannah, and Terry can often be found staying up to date on current research in their respective field.  Through these meetings and events, our team makes expert contacts and when a producer’s questions are not in our realm of expertise, we can reach out to these experts for the best possible information in our consulting.

As you can see, there is a great deal of knowledge about various sectors of the agriculture industry here at Ward Laboratories Inc.  From Agronomy to Animal Science, if you have a production question or need help with agricultural testing feel free to contact us.  If we don’t know the answer, chances are we know someone who does.

Integrated Systems Agriculture: 4 Benefits of Grazing Cover Crops to Beef Producers

Intensive, specialized crop production has several widely agreed upon downfalls.  These specialized systems tend to have stationary yields with expensive pesticide and herbicide inputs all while profitability is widely dependent on a global market over which we have little control.  Dependence on these practices  leads to higher resistance among  insects  and weeds, reliance on fertilizers due to nutrient depletion  in the soil,  soil erosion and contamination of waterways due to run off, and improper soil management practices. Soil scientists and agronomists agree that the addition of cover crops to a cropping rotation can improve soil quality and health through decreased erosion, increased microbial activity, increased carbon sequestration, more soil aggregates, and increased conservation of moisture in the soil, all due to a more extensive rooting system and ground residue protecting the soil for more months out of the year.  The addition of livestock, most commonly beef cattle, to this rotational cropping system decreases the need for herbicides and fertilizers, as they help deplete the weed seed bank and their manure contains many nutrients vital to plant nutrition and soil health. Guest author, Emily Shafto, covered the benefits to the soil extensively in her blog Cattle and Crops: Completing the Nutrient Cycle.  Here are four benefits of grazing cover crops to cattle producers:

 

  1. Grazing cover crops extends the grazing season, leading to decreased costs of stored feeds.  Supplementation needs are also lessened due to the animal’s ability to preferentially graze to meet their nutritional needs. According to a study by Practical Farmers of Iowa, grazing cover crops can offset winter feed storage costs by up to $40,000. Of course, it is important to mention that labor costs increase, and grazing cover crops requires more intensive management of the land and cattle.  The cost may be offset by the reduced need to cut and bale excessive amounts of hay or corn silage. Feed should still be stored for emergency use, such as a failed cover crop or a stressed crop that has accumulated too much nitrate to graze.

 

  1. Grazing cover crops can improve cattle’s nutritional plane through preferential grazing.  Animals consuming a cover crop mix can choose plant parts such as leaves over stems which are higher in protein and non-fiber carbohydrates and lower in fiber.  Cattle can also choose less mature plants for the same nutritional reasons.  Therefore, by grazing a mix of annual crops, cattle can consume more protein and carbohydrates for performance than a balanced ration of roughages and grain supplements. Therefore, grazing cover crops can improve nutrition and eliminate the cost of ration balancing and mixing.

 

  1. By improving their nutritional plane, animal performance can increase when grazing cover crops.  Growing steers typically have increased feed intake when consuming cover crops as opposed to a mixed ration, which results in increased weight gains.  Heifers and cows on the higher plane of nutrition provided by cover crops can have increased reproductive performance.

 

  1. Grazing cover crops rotationally can have an added benefit of forage regrowth.  When animals graze a paddock for the first time, they open the top canopy and allow sunlight to reach shorter plants.  When the cattle are removed from that section, plant growth is stimulated and if allowed enough time, may recover sufficiently enough to allow the area to be grazed again.   Grazing regrowth is like bonus forage and can also contribute to decreased feed production and storage costs.

 

Integrating cropping systems with forage production and grazing benefits soil health, grazing livestock, and your pocketbook.  Grazing cover crops specifically benefits beef production by extending the grazing season, thereby saving on winter stored feed costs, improving the animals nutritional plane resulting in improved animal performance through increased intake and gains, and bonus regrowth can also be grazed, again saving on winter feed costs.  Don’t forget to take proper precautions before allowing cattle to graze cover crops. See my blog post: 6 Cautions When Grazing Cover Crops.