CADILLAC — While the full impact of the wet and cool spring on agriculture will not likely be known until later this year, one thing is certain spring 2019 won't soon be forgotten.
To help those farmers who are struggling, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently signed legislation to allocate $15 million to a low-interest loan program to help farmers who face financial losses because wet weather is making it hard to plant crops. Whitmer's office announced the signing last week.
The spending covers upfront loan-processing fees and subsidizes private lenders so they can provide 1% interest rates to farmers, processors and others in the agriculture industry.
Similar relief was enacted in 2012 when fruit growers and processors were hit especially hard by an early thaw and late freeze. Eligibility will be determined based on the percentage of loss to the producer or processor.
Michigan has been going through a wet period. Five Michigan counties were recently declared federal disaster areas due to agricultural losses. They included Antrim, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau and Otsego counties but producers in the counties that are contiguous to those five counties also are eligible.
Those counties include Benzie, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Crawford, Manistee, Missaukee, Montmorency, Oscoda, Roscommon and Wexford. The application for federal assistance is Feb. 25.
While farmers are rightfully concerned with their home operations, Michigan State University Extension Beef Educator Kevin Gould said farmers also need to understand how regional and national weather challenges can affect national forage supplies.
On-farm hay stocks for May 2018 were at 260,000 tons and they have dropped to 180,000 tons as of the May 2019 survey, according to the National Ag Statistics Service. Gould said that’s a drop of almost 31%, meaning hay stocks are lower and will most likely continue that trend given the late start to the 2019 hay harvest season.
Planning for the lack of supply now may help farmers avert a disaster later in the year as winter feeding season approaches, Gould said. He also said many factors could be leading to a shortage of forage supply this fall. Low carry-over stocks and poor planting/growing conditions this spring are two of the contributing factors.
"(Hay) is certainly influenced by the spring we had, once we got there. We are 14-21 days behind normal," he said. "We are starting to catch up but it will be a slow process and it won't be what it should."
He said this past spring was cold, wet and detrimental and the first cutting of hay was substandard as a result. He said the hay was two to three weeks late on maturity so what usually was harvested at the start fo June was pushed to near the end of the month.
He also said once the hay did become harvestable, there was access rain so it sat in the field once it was cut. As a result, once the fields dried up and the standing water was no longer an issue, many farmers have been harvesting hay during the last two weeks, Gould said.
With that crop, Gould said there were a couple of challenges presented to farmers. First, while the quantity will likely be god the quality will not be. That is typically the case with the first cutting of hay but it is more pronounced this year, which means it will have lower feed value for the herds. Couple that with the winter kill to alfalfa the feed quality is reduced even more.
"That is really a hard thing for dairy farmers," he said.
Gould also said while farmers will find a way to feed their livestock this year the real issue will be next year. He said the big question will be commodity prices and whether they are so high they won't be able to afford to feed their herds? He also said the other question will be how much additional forage crops will be planted to allow farmers to get through that forage gap?
"In the grand scheme of things, we can't really tell you on July 13 but in October we could," he said. "When will the killing frost occur? Hopefully, there is not an early frost but there is always a risk of that."
Moving forward, Gould said those who are farmer need to understand there is no longer a "normal situation" anymore. The challenge is now understanding what the growing season provides that can allow farmers to meet the nutritional needs of their livestock. He also said he expects there will be a lot of summer annuals planted by farmers that weren't necessarily used in the past.
"I have been with (MSU) extension for 27 years and nothing close compares to this (year). It was such a late spring. We were wet last fall and it carried through winter and came into the spring," he said. "We were 6-7 inches above normal precipitation. We are drying out now but it is really too late for a lot of people."
Gould also suggested that all farmers test what they do have for a feed so they know what they have and how they need to supplement it. He also said if a farmer is growing hay as a cash crop they also may want to have a feed analysis done to they can know what they have.
Finally, if current prices are any indication, Gould said it could be interesting and expensive for those farmers looking to buy.
"Typically we see the lowest prices in June and July (for hay) and they are currently higher right now than any time last year," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.