The bitter cold that has sent so much of the nation into a tizzy has apparently caused minimal problems for the agriculture sector, but could prompt some residual problems, producers say. Livestock producers, still rattled by an unseasonal October blizzard that killed several thousand head of cattle in South Dakota, seem unworried after this recent cold blast, and it appears the citrus and wheat sectors may get by with minimal harm.

Jodie Anderson, executive director of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, said ranchers were prepared for and anticipated this recent cold weather. Anderson said she has not heard of any deaths of cattle from this cold blast, but said the temperature does add some complications, such as trouble with starting up the tractors. “Folks seem to be pretty optimistic,” Anderson said. “The market remains strong.”

Anderson said her organization is getting ready to distribute about $3 million raised through its Rancher Relief Fund to assist ranchers who suffered losses during the October blizzard. “The worst is behind us,” she said.

Doug Peterson, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, said livestock producers in his state are concerned about watering and feed issues.

“We’re not as used to the cold weather as we used to be,” Peterson said.

Currently, Peterson said his members have not endured any livestock losses, but are looking at a long-term problem of the availability of feed and associated increased costs. He said a lack of forage crops is complicating matters.

Jenni Purcell, senior director of communications and wellness at the American Dairy Association of Indiana, said dairy farmers have been dealing with an array of issues including electricity outages, frozen pipes and failing tractors. Producers could also be forced to dump milk if their bulk tanks are not large enough and weather prevents them from bringing the commodity to market.

Purcell said farmers have been busy feeding the cows extra electrolytes, piling on blankets, and making sure drinking water is not frozen. “Cows are incredible creatures, but it is seriously cold outside,” Purcell said.

Northern Indiana has been dealing with more than a foot of snow and temperatures of reaching minus 11 degrees Fahrenheit. Noting that the cows need to be milked at least two times a day, she said, “The older animals can withstand it and are more durable than the workers.”

Paul Markert, meteorologist with MDA Weather Services, said the Florida citrus belt “looks like [it] by and large escaped damage.” Markert said sustained temperatures of 28 degrees or below for four hours could harm the crop, but that didn’t happen.

Markert said Plains wheat producers also seem to have avoided harm despite sub-zero temperatures. That’s mostly due to of substantial snow cover, which offers protection to the crop. He did note some spotty damage to wheat crops in southern Indiana, Ohio, and northern Kentucky.  

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, California’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) recently announced that its first snow survey of the winter found more bare ground than usual. Manual and electronic readings record the snowpack’s statewide water content at about 20 percent of average for this time of year, according to DWR. That’s about 7 percent of the average April 1 measurement, when the snowpack normally is at its peak before melting into streams and reservoirs to provide a third of the water used by California’s cities and farms.

“While we hope conditions improve, we are fully mobilized to streamline water transfers and take every action possible to ease the effects of dry weather on farms, homes and businesses as we face a possible third consecutive dry year,” said DWR director Mark Cowin.

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