Warmer weather not causing alarm to some farmers

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 2, 2003

Recent warm temperatures and little snowfall have Bryan Stemson thinking about spring.

Stemson, who farms north and south of Austin, is concerned how the unusually mild winter will affect the soil and his livestock.

"We need snow in the winter time for adequate moisture in the spring time," Stemson said.

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Usually by this time 15 to 20 inches of snowfall is normal, he said. That amount of snow equals about two to two and a half inches of rain -- water that would runoff in the spring, he said.

"The water table isn't above. As of right now we're way below by now," Stemson said.

Jerry Tesmer, Mower County extension service director, has not heard from farmers with concerns about the mild start to winter, but said the weather can affect farming.

Livestock are more at risk for infections, such as pneumonia, because of the varying temperatures at night and during the day, he said.

With a warmer atmosphere, there's more chance for bacteria to remain in the air, Stemson said.

"There's a greater chance of catching pneumonia or the flu, just like with people," he said.

But Ron Mace, who farms west of Austin, said farmers save money during mild winters because they do not have to use as much heat on livestock buildings.

Stored grains are at risk for mold in warm temperatures, especially if they have not been dried properly, Tesmer said.

Stemson said because the fall was so dry, corn, for example, was dry when it was harvested. Because of this, many farmers skipped drying their corn, he said.

But even though the corn was drier than usual, it may still have been above acceptable moisture levels for storing, Stemson said. Corn should have a moisture level between 14 and 15 percent, but some farmers stored it with moisture levels at 17 or 18.

"Some people are trying to cut some costs and with the way the economy is, that's what people are trying to do," Stemson said.

Ideally, corn at the right moisture level will freeze during cold weather, thus preserving it until spring, Stemson said.

But because of the warmer temps, farmers have to use fans to control climates in storage bins. Fans have to be used carefully, however, because they can add more moisture to the storage area if the air has high moisture levels, he said.

Stemson dried his corn with an overhead drier system and said his corn is at the right moisture level.

Mild winters have been common in the last few years. This past spring was one of the driest Stemson has seen in his 17 years of farming.

"Last year we were fortunate to get enough moisture throughout the summer," Stemson said, adding that summers are usually drier than in the spring.

Mace also said the weather has been drier than usual, but said more snow is possible later in the winter.

"We still got a couple months," Mace said.

A very wet spring would be just as bad as a dry winter, Stemson said.

"It can go both ways," Stemson said. "You never know what will happen in the future."