ESCANABA - Lack of rain and last spring's early thaw and refreeze have damaged crops across the U.P.
"I've checked with several sources, in general, our forage crops, our hay crops, are down," said Warren Schauer, agriculture business management educator for the MSU Extension Service of Delta County. Yields from forage crops, crops used to feed livestock, are down 40 to 50 percent in the U.P.
"It's a little bit mystifying to me. I mean, it wasn't something I was totally expecting to be that low, because I don't think our rainfall was that much less," said Schauer.
Unlike portions of the Lower Peninsula which are in a severe drought, most of the U.P. is only classified as "abnormally dry." However, it is possible that crops are still reacting to the abnormal spring temperatures.
"We're thinking it's a combination of that early thaw followed by the freeze, that that had a greater impact on our forage crops than we were thinking at the time," said Schauer.
Schauer believes that the hay crop is evidence of this damage because both first and second cuttings were below normal despite rains. "We've gotten some timely rains, and some areas have gotten decent rains, and they're going back for their second cuttings, and the second cuttings are not responding as well," he said.
"They're below normal second cuttings so there must be some effects from this spring thaw and then freezing," Schauer added.
Not all areas of the U.P. were affected the same way by the spring weather and subsequent drought. "The western U.P., I hear that they're doing real well all across the board. I guess even their hay crop is doing really good over in the western U.P. They maybe didn't have the spring thaw as much as we did," said Schauer.
According to Schauer, farms in the eastern U.P. are experiencing more crop damage than the central or western U.P. "It's kind of graduating that way is what we're hearing," he said.
While forage crops are suffering, annual crops like corn and small grains seem to be doing well despite the lack of rain. "The corn's looking really good right now in our area, which you can't say that for most of the corn growing belt, and we're not in the corn belt," said Schauer.
States like Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois where corn is a major crop have been hit hard by the drought. The effects may be felt by Michiganders. "It'll have some impact on energy but it will definitely have an impact on food prices down the road. All our beef is fed corn and soybeans," said Schauer. "If those prices go up it's a major cost for our livestock producers both in diary and beef."
U.P. farmers who want more information about how the drought is affecting the region can access a conference call tonight at 7 p.m. Eastern Time. The call will feature representatives from MSU Extension, MSU AgBioResearch, and the Farm Service Agency. The theme of this call will be "Forages and Drought."
To access the conference call dial 605-475-4000 and enter access code 342473#. Long distance charges may apply. Because the conference call is set up like a party line, callers are asked to mute themselves by pressing *6 and press *6 again to unmute when asking a question.