Expect More Farm Weather Extemes? Yes!

Nor' east Thinkin'

After more than a year of farm weather extremes, you should expect more of the same. Be ready for opportunities and for greater risks.

Published on: March 26, 2012

 Wow and Whoa! That pretty much describes the weather we’ve experienced since last summer. I hope you’re preparing for more of the same because it’s likely to test your management flexibility.

On March 10 I stepped out the front door to be greeted by a butterfly. Spring didn’t just spring; It was flung upon us! My yard grass was nearly a half-a-foot high before I even had a chance to pray over my 60-something tractor mower. (No, I don’t mean 60 h.p. I mean 60-plus years of rusting and running.)

You may have seen the same thing happening with your winter wheat, oats and alfalfa stands. I predict that many first-cuttings of hay will be ready by April 15 – previously unheard of! Barley and wheat may be ready to harvest at least two weeks ahead of normal. The bigger question is: Will you be ready?

Four southeast Pennsylvania farmers have already told me they expect to finish corn planting by April 15. Reason: They’d rather risk early frost damage than pollination heat damage in July. What about drought risk, you ask? That would be a risk either way, so it wouldn’t enter into the risk calculation.

Back to weathering the weather

Over the last several years, American Agriculturist has published several articles about the strong trend in earlier growing degree day accumulations and the longer-term implications. This winter – if we can call it such – has convinced many that we’re pawns in something much bigger than mere coincidences of weather phenomenon.

My concern is that most farmers – I didn’t say all – aren’t yet fully plugged into what’s happening and making anticipatory changes. Sure, frosty nights could happen before mid-April. But the growing degree day heat units in this area of Pennsylvania are almost there now to get corn out of the ground.

Fruit trees are in full bloom – nearly a month early! Growing degree days are the reason.

GDDs are based on a 50-degree Fahrenheit average for minimal and maximum temperatures for the day. From February 1 to March 26, in my area we accumulated 134 GDDs. That compares to 25 GDDs during the same period of 2011. In April 2011, we received 196 GDDs.

What about this April and May, you ask? You can throw out any computerized GDD prediction. Those calculations are based on 30-year averages.

Watch for more implications of this strange weather in May’s issue of American Agriculturist.

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