Storm impact: Going gets tough for ag sector
YANKTON, S.D. (AP)--Frigid temperatures, slick roads and mountainous piles of snow may have inconvenienced people traversing to and from day jobs in town, but the winter storm and ongoing cold are creating major problems for those involved with agriculture--man and beast alike.
South Dakota Cooperative Extension veterinarian Russ Daly said the prolonged stress of weather events like the recent subzero temperatures and blizzards across the state can cause problems in livestock that show up even after the weather improves.
"Wet, snowy weather combined with severe wind chills can produce stress that increases cortisol levels, which in turn dampen immune response,'' Daly said. "This makes livestock, especially in young animals, more susceptible to a number of respiratory and digestive pathogens.''
There are some immediate dangers to the health of animals from severe cold, like chilling and frostbite, Daly said, but also problems that may not be apparent until 7 to 14 days following the event.
"Calf pneumonia usually shows up 7 to 10 days following a stressful period or heavy pathogen exposure,'' he said. "In young calves, scours organisms like rotavirus, coronavirus and cryptosporidia are potential problems and can manifest in a week or less.''
Heavy exposure to pathogens, such as when high numbers of animals are brought indoors, or increased stress levels can shorten incubation periods for these illnesses, Daly said.
"In most cases, there's little vaccination can do after the fact, so prompt identification of sick animals is essential,'' Daly said. "Calves or lambs with respiratory infections often respond to antibiotic and other treatments that herd veterinarians would recommend.''
Daly said weather stress combines with other stresses animals may encounter, such as weaning, transporting and processing.
"Producers must consider winter conditions in light of management decisions. Anything that can be done to reduce weather stress to livestock should be considered carefully,'' he said. "If processing, transporting and weaning can be delayed until severe wind chills and wet, snowy conditions have subsided, they will reduce risks and losses.''
Daly said local veterinarians are the best sources for animal health information in adverse conditions. "No one else is more qualified to answer prevention and treatment questions in light of conditions on the ground in your area,'' he said.
South Dakota Cooperative Extension beef specialist Cody Wright said that the predicted low temperatures, following recent heavy snows, should remind all producers to follow a few key steps to prevent losses or damage to herds.
"Protect the cattle from the weather as much as possible, and since the stress is related to wind chill, providing wind breaks is important,'' Wright said. "Additional bedding is also recommended.''
Wright said the general rule of thumb is that for every degree Fahrenheit the temperature drops below 32 degrees, producers should increase their herd's diet energy by 1 percent.
"However, under more extreme conditions, like negative wind chills or wet conditions, it may also be advantageous to provide a better quality forage and/or small amounts of grain, up to 0.25 percent of body weight,'' he added.
Alternative feeds such as soybean hulls and DDGs will also work, Wright said.
"Regardless of the temperature or wind, an adequate supply of clean water is wise, even when cattle may be able to rely on snow for water,'' Wright said. "However, if any type of crust forms on the show from either wind or ice, the cattle will not consume as much water as they need, so a water supply becomes essential.''
But livestock owners aren't the only ones paying a high price for the extreme weather of late. On the heels of a frustrating harvest season, the snowfall caught many grain producers with crops still in the field.
Now, soil scientists say producers may be facing yet another problem this spring with soil compaction issues.
"Most of the grain has been harvested from South Dakota fields, and many fields contain deep ruts and probable soil compaction,'' said Ron Gelderman, SDSU professor of plant science. "With wet soils, soil strength decreases and they can easily become deformed and compacted with harvest and tillage equipment.''
Gelderman said soil compaction occurs when soil particles are pushed together, reducing the soil pore spaces. When it happens, there is less capacity for the soil to hold air and water, both of which are vital for healthy, growing plants.
"The surface compaction can usually be alleviated by freeze-thaw cycles and with primary tillage, but subsoil compaction is another story,'' Gelderman said.
When large ruts are visible, he said it is probable that subsoil compaction has taken place.
"Most of the deep soil compaction probably has occurred in the wetter areas of the field where soil strength was very poor this fall,'' Gelderman said, adding that crop yields in subsoil compaction areas can be reduced for up to12 years.
He said soil compaction problems are best fixed by Mother Nature's freeze-thaw and wet-dry cycles, but that takes time.
South Dakota Farmers Union president Doug Sombke warned that many producers in the northeastern region of South Dakota would not be able to plant in the spring.
"There are fields that stayed underwater, and after heavy snows, (producers) won't be able to get out in the fields to plant,'' he said.
He added that the problems created by unfavorable weather conditions in the fall--and of late--can't help but extend to the next growing season.
But for many area farmers dealing with the current challenges of winter, spring is too far away to think about.