Oct. 15 2019 03:02 PM

Costs of a wet year add up, and not just in dollars

The information below has been supplied by dairy marketers and other industry organizations. It has not been edited, verified or endorsed by Hoard’s Dairyman.

Gordon Speirs, dairy farmer

This is not meant to be a complaint, but a reflection of the reality facing our dairy sector. “We” means all of us.

A recent rainfall felt like the final dagger in the heart during a very difficult year.

This all started 13 months ago when it began raining in early September and was wet throughout the fall. We did not finish our field work properly before freeze-up and did not get the manure pits emptied.

This carried into a wet spring. We first realized that much of the alfalfa hay crops did not survive the winter. Normally, we plant new alfalfa before May 1. But it was still too wet and we could not get into the fields.

There was a small window to plant corn around May 22, then the rains came again. Most of the corn was finally planted by June 12 into less than ideal conditions. Some of the poorer fields had another chance around June 22. So, by May 23 we knew this was going to be a delayed harvest.

Normally we take four cuttings of hay. This year, the first three were challenged by wet fields that kept us from using equipment that would create ruts. We did not want to harm the acres that survived the winter. The fourth cut, which was due to be harvested on Sept. 10, is still in the field. We are waiting for a killing frost to allow us to harvest the crop, but we still aren’t sure if the ground will be hard enough.

All of this comes with added costs.

  • Finances: Normally we need a silage chopper with four trucks to make one chopping team. Because of the soaked fields, we now need to add three tractors and dump carts at $130 per hour each. We also need a skid-steer to clean roads and we’ll need the dump carts to come onto the town roads to dump into the semi-trailers.
  • People: We recently added four people for a chopping team. Employees are hard to find because the hours are long and the job is frustrating.
  • Productivity: Using dump carts, we can come close to normal production in harvest, until things start getting stuck in the mud. When the chopper gets stuck, our efficiency goes to zero.
  • Days to freeze-up: In a normal year, silage harvest is complete around Oct. 1. This year we started Oct 10. As a dairy industry, we need to get the crop in, then return the manure to the fields. This window is now only half as long as last year, yet we have more challenging conditions.
  • The fields: Compaction and damage that the harvest will cause to the soil structure will not be fixed in one year. We’ll see decreased yields in the coming years, for sure.
  • The community: Roads will be muddy and blocked at times as we work to accomplish the harvest.
  • Emotions: Until this is done, it will be really hard to have a good day. Each day seems like a battle. This will be reflected in how we relate to our families, workers, service providers, equipment dealers, fellow farmers and others. We will all try to have a good attitude, but the fun left this year a long time ago.
  • Finances, again: After what has been a struggling agricultural economy for four years, we finally are seeing some price relief in the dairy sector, but it feels like we will be giving all of our profits back again this year due to the added costs and reduced yields.

As we look ahead, we have six weeks in which to complete eight weeks of work before freeze-up. I ask our neighbors and others to be patient and understanding when your vehicles get muddy or you get delayed in your travel.

Please also remember that this is where your food comes from. The next time you order a pizza, realize that this is the effort that was made so there could be cheese on it.

Like we in agriculture do every day, I am heading out this morning with an attitude to be victorious in the conditions that are presented.

Should you have time, say a little prayer for the ag community. It can’t hurt.