CADILLAC — Farmers are breathing a little easier after the latest full moon, which is used by many as a benchmark, of sorts.
When Tom Bluhm sees a full moon, he can’t help but remember a bit of “country wisdom‘ he learned a long time ago: Frost can’t be far behind.
“It might be a folk tale but there is something to that,‘ said Bluhm, who primarily raises beef cattle on his farm in Osceola County.
Among other things, Bluhm plants a multi-species cover crop ... and with cold, rainy conditions this spring, he was concerned he wouldn’t get the growing days needed to raise the crop to full maturity.
Luckily, the rest of summer provided plenty of warmth and rain, and with the harvest moon past, Bluhm said he’s in pretty good shape, although he admits he might be in the minority in this regard because he doesn’t grow corn.
Michigan State University Extension Educator Paul Gross said farmers throughout the region were worried their corn fields wouldn’t have enough time to grow before the first killing frost.
Many farmers were several weeks behind on planting their corn due to adverse planting conditions.
Back in August, McBain farmer Mike VanPolen predicted it could be mid-October before he is able to harvest.
As a rule of thumb, VanPolen said he likes to have corn planted by Memorial Day but with the late planting pushing harvest into the fall, he was concerned the quality of his corn could be severely impacted by frost. When cattle aren’t given quality feed, it affects their production of milk, which affects the farm’s bottom line, he said.
Making matters worse this year was the impact weather conditions had on forage crops like alfalfa, which are an integral part of a cow’s diet.
This late in the season, Gross said every day that goes by with overnight temperatures above freezing gives farmers more confidence things will turn out alright.
“They’re growing more optimistic,‘ Gross said. “The mood’s been a little bit brighter; we’ll have an opportunity to grow this crop to maturity ... but we still have a ways to go.‘
Accuweather Meteorologist Dave Samuhel said the full moon doesn’t cause frost to appear. Rather, a full moon is an indication of clear skies; without clouds, heat isn’t retained, temperatures cool down and the air can become saturated with moisture — causing frost, Samuhel said.
The harvest moon also appears in close proximity to the September equinox, which is the moment when the Sun appears to cross the celestial equator and days and nights across the globe are the same length.
This year, the harvest moon came a couple weeks before the equinox on Sept. 23, which could be the reason why farmers haven’t yet experienced frost ... although Samuhel said it appears as though it wouldn’t have mattered one way or the other.
Long-term forecasts put the first killing frost around the first week of October, which is much later than the usual date at the end of September.
Even with the late growing season, Gross said it’s possible farmers will have to contend with corn and soybean crops containing around double the levels of moisture that they prefer.
In order to dry out the crops and use them as grain for livestock, farmers have to set up propane heaters that act essentially as a furnace, dropping moisture levels from 30% to 15%. This can be expensive, costing a couple cents for every percentage point of moisture.
Some farmers may decide to cut their losses and sell their undried crops as high-moisture feed in the market, although they also will take a hit of 25 to 30 cents a bushel, depending on how badly the quality of the feed has been impacted.
Weather complications are bad enough, but that isn’t the only challenge faced by farmers.
Gross said ongoing tariff wars continue to impact area farmers, although pork and soybean producers recently were given some relief when China announced those products were no longer on their tariff list.
In August, farmers could begin applying for financial assistance from the federal government to help them recoup some losses they’ve suffered in the tariff dispute.
Gross said he believes most farmers in this area will take advantage of this assistance, which he thinks will be a big help.
Through the program, farmers will be paid based on the number of acres they planted, the number of animals they raise, the location of their farm and other factors.
For more information on the program, visit www.farmers.gov/mfp or contact your local Farm Service Agency office at (231) 757-3707 in Lake County or (231) 775-7681 in Missaukee, Osceola or Wexford counties.