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. It all started 13 months ago when it began raining in early September and was wet throughout the fall. We didn’t finish our field work properly before the freeze and weren’t able to empty the manure pits.
That carried into a wet spring. We first realized that much of the alfalfa-hay crops didn’t survive the winter. Normally we plant new alfalfa before May 1. But it was still too wet; we weren’t able to go into the fields.
There was a small window to plant corn about May 22 but 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 about June 22. So by May 23 we knew it 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 didn’t want to harm the acres that survived the winter. The fourth cut, which was due to be harvested Sept. 10, is still in the field. We’re 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 that 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 difficult 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 become stuck in the mud. When the chopper becomes stuck our efficiency goes to zero.
Days to freeze-up – In a normal year silage harvest is complete about Oct. 1. This year we started Oct 10. As a dairy industry we need to bring the crop in, then return the manure to the fields. That window is now only half as long as the previous 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 it’s finished it will be really difficult to have a good day. Each day seems like a battle. That 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 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 freezing. I ask our neighbors and others to be patient and understanding when vehicles become muddy or are delayed during travel.
Please also remember that it’s where the community’s food comes from. The next time a person orders a pizza, please realize 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.
Gordon Speirs, a dairy farmer near Greenleaf, Wisconsin
Submitted by the Dairy Business Association-Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative – visit www.dairyforward.com for more information.