LEROY — Heat is very beneficial for farmers but there is a point when it can become too much of a good thing.
"The saying goes that you want to be knee-high by July (as far as corn growth)," said Joe Kulhawick, cattle herd manager for Bosscher Dairy, in Missaukee County. "We're at waist-high in some places right now. Corn loves heat, so it's doing awesome."
Theresa Sisung, associate field crop specialist for Michigan Farm Bureau, said most farmers are well ahead of planting this year, especially compared to last year, when cold conditions and rain through most of spring led to planting delays that had severe effects on agricultural operations.
While warm temperatures are good to a point, farmers are starting to worry about excessive heat putting stress on crops and livestock.
"It's getting pretty toasty out there," Kulhawick said. "We're going to need a good drink soon."
Marion area farmer Terry Veddler said when temperatures reach 87 degrees or higher, it starts to affect corn by causing wilt and stunting growth.
"Right now nothing's hurting but they're talking about us not having rain for 10 days," Veddler said. "We can handle a couple of days but when it gets to a week or a month, that's when it starts to hurt."
Sisung said since corn is early in its growth stage, it can handle prolonged periods of dryness and heat better than it would later in the year. Once the corn starts pollinating, Sisung said heat can abort kernel development and decrease yields.
Hot conditions also can impact livestock.
"We're already seeing a drop in milk production," Veddler said. "Production has gone down about 10,000 pounds a day (since temperatures rose into the high 80s)."
Kulhawick said when cows are stressed from the heat, they tend to eat less food, which in turn causes them to produce less milk.
"They've been backing off from their feed lately," Kulhawick said. "We've just been lucky it's been cool at night, when they do a lot of their feeding."
Another byproduct of higher temperatures is an explosion in biting fly populations.
LeRoy beef cattle farmer Jerry Lindquist said when flies are bad, the cattle often group up in tight circles to ward them off. He said this exacerbates the overheating problem and leads to additional stress on the animals as they try in vain to avoid being bitten.
To alleviate their suffering, Lindquist attaches insecticide tags to the cows' ears, which helps to keep the flies away.
Other farmers, such as Kulhawick at Bosscher Dairy, routinely hire professionals to spray for flies. Kulhawick said he also positions industrial-sized fans in the milking parlors and other areas where cows congregate. He said the fans not only help keep the animals cool but also blows the flies out of the room.
For most farmers in this area, corn and hay are used as feed for livestock, so when their harvest isn't very good, many are forced to buy supplemental feed, which can be very expensive.
While corn is looking much better this year, many farmers report disappointing hay yields on their first cutting due to cold weather in late May and early June.
Sisung said it remains to be seen if improved planting conditions this year will result in farmers coming out better financially than last year, considering the damage that coronavirus disruptions caused to crop and livestock markets.
She said livestock commodity prices have rebounded to a degree and while dairy prices are trending upward, those increases haven't yet made their way down to the farm level.
On Wednesday, the United States Mexico Canada Trade Agreement went into effect, replacing the previous North American Free Trade Agreement.
The wide-ranging economic agreement was signed by leaders of the three countries in November 2018, passed by Congress in December 2019 and signed into law in January 2020.
“With new market access to Canada for dairy farmers and a more level playing field for Michigan workers, the USMCA will benefit the economy and create jobs,‘ said Congressman John Moolenaar. “Michigan workers are the best in the world and this agreement increases protections for them while cutting red tape for small businesses who sell Michigan-made products in Canada and Mexico. The USMCA is a strong trade agreement for the 21st century that will move our state and our country forward."
Lindquist, who also serves as secretary of the Michigan Forage Council, said hopefully the USMCA is a step in the right direction for farmers, although he predicts they likely won't notice much of an impact for several months as the agreement is gradually implemented.
"Only time will tell," Lindquist said.