Business

Dairy farmers hold fast in extreme weather

GTNS photo by Isaac Hamlet

Most of the cows on Echo Dell Organic Farm have gotten through the winter and recent flooding unaffected. What farmer Calvin Yoder is worried about, however, is that the frost will have killed off his crop, which could mean he’ll take a hit economically next year if he’s required to buy feed.
GTNS photo by Isaac Hamlet Most of the cows on Echo Dell Organic Farm have gotten through the winter and recent flooding unaffected. What farmer Calvin Yoder is worried about, however, is that the frost will have killed off his crop, which could mean he’ll take a hit economically next year if he’s required to buy feed.

Even as the region enters comfortable spring temperatures, Calvin Yoder still is worried about frost.

It’s not that Yoder, who handles the livestock at Echo Dell Organic Farm in Kalona, thinks the frost is going to come back anytime soon or that it would directly affect the cows on the dairy farm. He’s worried about what might already have been done by the frost.

“The thing we’re most concerned about would be the ice over the hayfields,” Yoder said, explaining his concern that the cold of January and February may already have killed plants.

Like many dairy farmers across southeast Iowa, Yoder is taking stock of the damage left by the hard winter while preparing for future weather threats such as flooding.

It won’t be until mid-April, when the crop starts to grow, that Yoder will know whether he’ll be able to have a viable harvest. If not, he’ll have to “reseed” the land, which is where he’ll take the biggest financial hit.

He estimates it would cost $100 per acre to reseed, which could put the farm a few weeks behind schedule.

“We have probably 100 acres of hay,” Yoder said.

In a regular year, he’s able to get “four cuttings,” meaning once a month, May through August, he’s able to harvest hay.

“We’re already having to buy feed because we didn’t get enough last year,” Yoder said. So if his hayfields don’t start growing, he could be in for another shortage this year.

The cows weren’t too hurt by the cold. Yoder lost two calves born in the cold and had to sell a few cows for meat after they were frostbitten, but it was not enough to move his bottom line.

At Hilltop Dairy Inc. in Mount Pleasant, Madison Roth said she and her fellow dairy farmers were more bothered by the winter cold than the cows were.

“Being a dairy farm, we have lots of facilities we can close up with doors or curtains,” she said. “The cows were very comfortable inside the whole time.”

The farm didn’t lose any calves over the winter. Those born during the coldest days were kept in the milk barn with the heater on, Roth said.

The latest weather threat that dairy farmers are monitoring is flooding. Roth said she hasn’t had any flooding, and Yoder said he’s seen only a little bit on the edge of his fields.

“To me the real disaster are the people who’ve got beef cattle out in Nebraska dealing with flooding,” Yoder said. “I’ve heard some of those guys have lost 40 percent of their calves.”

The record flooding earlier this month along the Missouri River killed at least four people, drowned livestock and closed dozens of roads in Nebraska and Iowa. Property losses were estimated at more than $3 billion in the two states.

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Roth said the farmers she knows living along the Mississippi River and the Dubuque River have emergency evacuation plans in place for flooding. The plans would allow those farmers to bring their cows to other facilities to be milked temporarily. However, the biggest issue would be trying to keep the feed dry.

“Feed’s the most expensive thing on a farm for any farmer,” Roth said. “It’s our highest priority; we make sure to keep it fresh and keep it dry. We’re thankful we’re not on the western side of the state right now.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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