(Post by Jason)
I’ve got one more post in me dealing with drought and then I promise we’ll move forward onto other topics of interest. Just like 2007, this drought is of historic proportions; bigger and in some ways with much worse and farther reaching consequences than the once in a century drought we endured a few years ago. Most people think that when they finally get a good rain and things begin to green up again that the drought and it’s many consequences are over. Unfortunately this is far from the truth.
Let’s start with the pastures. The combined effects of extreme heat and unprecedented dry weather completely killed just about everything green in every pasture and hay field in this area regardless of when it was cut or how it was managed. I can honestly say that grazing pressure made no difference as to the outcome; it was so dry and so hot for so long even the weeds died; something I have never seen before in my life. Now that it’s rained, those plants with adequate root reserves (both weeds and grasses) are beginning to actively grow again and the pastures look deceptively green. If it continues raining from now through the fall most of the grasses that come back will be able to store adequate root reserves to get through winter. If it stops raining for any length of time again, all bets as to the outcome of most of our pasture grasses are off. We’ll get through it and some of it will grow back, of that I have no doubt. The big question is what will it be. We already know we’ll be re-seeding everything but since late summer and fall are typically the drier seasons in this part of the world I see no point in spending thousands of dollars re-seeding anything before next spring.
We have been feeding hay continuously for a month and a half at this point and we have already fed a third of what we would feed during an average winter. Thanks to our recent rains this will ease up at least for awhile. I sure hope so because there is almost no local hay for sale in this part of the world right now at any price. I have been offered an insane amount of money for the stuff stored in my hay barns and it isn’t for sale at any price because right now I can’t replace it. As much as we could we tried to buy ahead but we will almost certainly have to buy additional hay this winter and I shudder to think what we’ll be paying for it or where it will have to come from. If it gets dry again our hay fields may well not fully recover next spring either leading to lower hay yields next year as well. This will keep demand high as any extra will have long ago been fed up. I expect to see elevated hay prices for at least a couple of years in this part of Tennessee.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor 2/3 of the continental United States is currently experiencing some level of drought, and believe it or not the worst of this year’s dry weather isn’t here. Much of the corn belt is experiencing exceptional drought and unprecedented heat and the consequences on our nation’s corn and soybean crop are becoming very evident. As of this week, December corn on the CBOT (Chicago Board of Trade) was trading as high as $7.80 per bushel which is mind-bogglingly high for those of us who remember selling corn at less than $2.00 per bushel a few years ago. It looks like corn and bean prices are continuing to trend up which means feed prices will also be trending upward soon.
Even if it started raining normally today this area needs an additional 12 inches of water to bring us back to average levels of precipitation. Barring a tropical storm the chances of that happening this year are slim. The consequences of the drought of 2007 were felt in this part of the world for three years afterward and I expect this drought will be the same.