Mild winter prompts concern over summer crops

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Lack of rain makes farmers nervous about dry summer

With the unusually mild winter southwest Missouri has experienced, local producers are concerned the area may have an unusually dry summer, which may have a detrimental effect on area crops.

"There's a lot of uncertainty, yet there seems to be a lot of discussion based upon El Nino that is, that we could potentially have some dry weather, especially since we're going into the growing season with a deficit in moisture in much of southwest Missouri," said Tim Schnakenberg, regional agronomy specialist for the University of Missouri extension. "We have had some, but it's been sporadic, some places have got it, some not, and the crops are growing kind of funny this year."

Schnakenberg said he's getting unusual reports from the farmers he's visited and spoken with.

"I've been on several farms today, and on the phone with another farmer, and some of them are harvesting alfalfa and rye forages a lot earlier than normal," Schnakenberg said. "So, that's getting our season started really early. I know the Alfalfa Weevil is not as bad this year. The Weevil is something we deal with every year on alfalfa. It fully skeletonizes the leaf, and it pretty much takes the first harvest if you don't do something about it. The farmers are saying they have them, but [the Weevils] don't seem to be chewing as fast, and I think it's due to the colder weather we've had at night that's been holding some of the insects at bay."

How these anomalies predict outcomes for summer crops are hard to tell at this point, Schnakenberg said.

"I think the biggest concern from farmers is the season getting an early start, and we don't feel like we have enough moisture in the sub soil to be confident that we're ready for the dry weather ahead," he said.

Having a mild winter does not automatically predict a certain summer climate, Schnakenberg said.

"But the forecasters, like the National Weather Service out of Springfield, say theres an indication that, based upon El Nino, that we have the potential for dry weather this summer," he said. "So, people are nervous about that."

Even so, Schnakenberg there is a silver lining within the cloud of concern.

"The good news is that there is a lot of carry-over forage," he said. "We had a lot of forage and hay, and [because] we had a mild winter, we didn't have to feed out as much, so our hay supplies going onto this season are much more ahead. It's not the highest quality hay, but its still hay.

"Another good thing that's working for us is that our fertilizer prices are lower than they have been in years. So, this is an excellent time for farmers to be fertilizing those crops out to get a better result, and to be focusing on building our fertility levels and getting our phosphorous and potassium levels to where they need to be. That way, the crops will be in better shape for dry weather."

Moving forward into the season, Schnakenberg offered producers a piece of advice.

"The main thing concerning is, don't graze too hard, and fertilize accordingly," he said.

For additional resources, producers can visit the extension website at: http://extension.missouri.edu/

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