Weather forecasters shouldn’t assume they know what weather conditions a farmer wants or needs. Farm operations are so diverse that one may be hoping for rain while another is hoping for heat.
Radio and TV weather reports are notorious for taking the urban view. Hot, dry summer days are what the typical vacationer wants.
Farmers get a bit cantankerous when crops and pasture are withering and the weather person forecasts another nice hot day.
At some point, someone often tunes in the weather person, pointing out that the needs of farmers and ranchers are different than those of city dwellers.
As a result, statements are made such as, “Tomorrow is going to be rainy, but at least that will make the farmers happy.”
Of course, that may not make farmers happy at all if there’s already been too much rain or if they’re in the middle of harvest.
In all fairness, many of the services that provide specialized agricultural weather forecasts often fall into the same trap. They assume to know what farmers need.
In the middle of a prolonged drought, it’s a safe bet that everyone is hoping for rain and vice versa when there’s flooding. Often though, it isn’t clear cut.
At this time of year, heat is considered a good thing by most producers. They want the crop to mature.
However, late seeded crops may have their yields shaved by hot weather and cattle producers would prefer to have moisture for their pastureland. A shower could also help swathed canola cure properly.
Conditions can be highly variable in a short distance. Precipitation maps illustrate how there’s often a gradient of well above normal to normal to well below normal precipitation within 100 kilometres or less. Producers in those different zones are likely to have different weather wish lists.
Sometimes farmers don’t even know what weather to hope for. One crop might need rain while another needs to have maturity pushed by hot, dry weather.
Then there are unintended consequences. Hot, dry fall weather is ideal for grasshoppers laying their eggs, which could increase the hopper population next year.
Rain during the growing season promotes crop growth and better yields, but it also promotes fungal diseases. A heavy crop canopy isn’t always good news.
Frost in the fall is generally bad, but at some point producers could be looking for a killing frost to help make crops such as flax easier to harvest.
Imagine if farmers could form committees and order perfect weather for every season. It sounds like utopia, but in reality there would be great difficulty reaching agreement.
Producers relying on surface water would want winter snowfall and runoff. They’d be at odds with those who don’t want to fight with the snow and then lose seeded acres to sloughs.
Dry weather for haying might mean foregoing rain for grain and oilseed crops at a critical time in their development. There would be arguments over how much to water the crops and when to turn off the tap.
Producers with sandy soil would have different viewpoints than those on clay.
It’s a Canadian pastime to talk about the weather, and that’s especially true for farmers. However, it’s probably a good thing that we need to take what we get and roll with the punches.
As for weather reports, give me the facts and I’ll decide the ramifications.
The forecast, even it’s right, might be good news or bad or both.
Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]