Following winter weather, snow is a mixed blessing for farmers

January 23, 2018 GMT

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

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 during 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.