Imagine being a business owner and one of the things that significantly impacts your business is 100% out of your control. It rains today and snows tomorrow. It’s 20 below zero on Monday and by Tuesday it’s 40 degrees. The impact that weather has on agriculture can be and has been significant and it’s completely out of the hands of the farm owner.
New York State is home to some of the most vital, robust agriculture land in the country. Surrounded by wineries, orchards, dairy farms, equine operations, greenhouses, u-pick businesses and so much more, we are fortunate to have high-quality agricultural products at our fingertips. But sometimes there are challenges that face these farm owners every single year and it begins with the weather outside our front door.
Take a moment and think back to summer of 2016. A lot of us spent time lounging by the lake or kicking back poolside in our backyard. Farmers could be found standing in their fields, examining their crops and perhaps even doing a rain dance. Many regions of the state were declared a disaster area due to severe drought conditions. Follow these weather patterns up with a warmer than normal winter in 2017, only to see an incredibly wet spring that hindered farmers everywhere and had many of them questioning how they were going to get their crops planted. A wet spring in 2017 meant not only planting was delayed but product quality and quantity diminished. Most recently, farmers have experienced bitter cold temperatures for extended periods of time and extreme temperature swings making it difficult to plan, decide or implement farm practices.
So what’s the big deal? What’s the impact? As you drive down any rural road in the state, you’re sure to see a dairy farm or two. While the weather may not directly impact consumers, it does impact the feed that is provided to the cows, the pastures they graze on and their overall well-being. Extreme temperatures, both hot and cold, require additional work on the farmers’ part to ensure their herd is either warm enough or cool enough to continue to produce a high-quality milk product. The health of the herd is also under a microscope even more so with extreme temperature fluctuations and changes. Temperature fluctuations, along with wet weather, are the perfect storm for sickness and unfortunately can lead to respiratory problems for cows. When this happens, farmers work closely with veterinarians to administer antibiotics and take appropriate measures to make sure their cows get healthy quickly, just like you and I see a doctor when we are sick.
The pastures the cows graze on and fields that crops are grown on are also impacted by the forecast. Different field conditions affect the digestibility of the crops and impact the quality and quantity of milk that is produced by each cow. Crops can be lost due to one extreme weather condition or another which could result in higher prices for both consumer and farmer alike. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the weather conditions that impact the people. Icy road conditions hinder the milk truck from arriving on time. Frozen water buckets and burst water pipes are inevitable every winter along with the occasional phone call from an employee that the heat stopped working in parts of the barn. Never a dull moment during the winter on the farm.
So while some enjoy the over-abundance amount of sunny days during the summer or endless cold days on the ski slope, there are others throughout the rural parts of New York that may be doing a rain dance or taking a moment to warm up beside the wood stove. Keep those folks in mind the next time it rains for the local BBQ because those rain drops may be just what the farmers in the area need to keep their crop alive and cows healthy for the year. No matter the weather condition, farmers continue to focus on what they can control and leave the rest to Mother Nature.