WASHINGTON, July 27, 2016 - Hot, hot, hot! Last week, a high pressure system that trapped hot air for an extended period of time created a “heat dome” that put 110 million Americans under heat advisories on Saturday alone. Heat indexes surged well into triple digits, topping 110 in some areas.
But when it comes to dealing with heat stress, it’s important to understand that humans and crop plants are not the same, points out Emerson Nafzinger, an extension specialist in crop production in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois.
“I think the disparity comes from the fact that ‘heat waves’ today use the heat index, which is a measure of human misery that has little meaning in terms of crop growth,” Nafzinger explained. He said crops in Illinois are “absolutely thriving” and USDA agrees. As of July 24, 76 percent of the U.S. corn crop was in good or excellent condition, up from 70 percent a year earlier, according to the department’s latest crop progress report. Soybeans are seeing a similar jump; the report has them at 71 percent good to excellent, an improvement on the 62 percent a year ago.
Nafzinger also noted that slightly above-average moisture across much of the Corn Belt also helped the crops avoid heat stress last week. However, he did point out some areas – eastern Indiana and some of Ohio and Michigan – that are struggling due to higher temps and lower moisture.
For livestock producers, “the onset of the heat event was well reported in media prior to the heat so that most people were able to take precautions,” Grant Dewell, a beef extension veterinarian with Iowa State University extension, said in an email to Agri-Pulse. “I have not heard of any major death loss issues in cattle associated with this latest episode of heat stress.”
Dewell said that cattle can have problems with heat due to their body size, but adequate shade and water availability can go a long way in preventing any issues. Cattle in feedlots are the most vulnerable to heat since their ability to find shade and water is limited to whatever is provided to them, he added.
Iowa’s pork production was also left largely unscathed, Jason Ross, the director of the Iowa Pork Industry Center, told Agri-Pulse. Luckily for the nation’s rib lovers, a large majority of a pig’s life is indoors, so a heat wave like last week’s meant producers were more likely to have higher utility bills than overheated animals. Ross says that, in most cases, ventilation fans could keep temperatures very close to normal, requiring more energy to keep them running.
In the instances where fans are unable to regulate the temperature adequately, Ross said the heat could alter eating patterns and extend the time it takes for the pigs to reach a marketable weight. Producers then have to decide either to market a smaller pig or feed their animals for a longer period of time, which sometimes isn’t an option due to the highly scheduled nature of the pork industry. It probably won’t be known if there were any instances of heat-related dietary reduction until further down the road.
While much of the west remains abnormally dry, Midwestern farmers may soon be feeling some relief from the hot weather. Forecasters say last week’s scorching temperatures have moved east where they are setting records in some other areas. In the Corn Belt, temperatures should return to near normal soon with highs in the upper 70s to mid-80s.
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