July 11, 2017 08:00 AM

In most years, there are always farms and ranches that find themselves in the middle of a severe drought, while others are saddled with an extended period of relentless rain. Both situations present unique consequences, and I suspect that most people who are reading this have experience with both types of environmental anomalies.

Which is the hardest to deal with?

I’ve been giving this some thought lately.

Intensity, soil type, and timing will always define the severity of both drought and extreme wet conditions, so any discussion on the topic needs to take those factors into consideration. Additionally, whatever you’re currently experiencing will always seem like the worst. From a forage production perspective, here are some of my thoughts.

Excessive rain

Timing is everything in crop and livestock production; relentless rainfall disrupts timing. Wet periods usually come early or late in the growing season, impacting either planting or harvest. Not being able to plant or harvest on time are obvious implications of excessive moisture. Even worse, wet weather is often cause for replanting, generally late and with a significant yield penalty. This is even true for many forage crops such as corn silage or small grains.

Monsoon-like weather also impacts harvest, and not just for fall crops. We often see winter annual small grains mature and lodge in the field with early-season precipitation. Delayed harvest, spring or fall, of virtually all forage crops plays havoc with forage quality and often has severe economic consequences.

In addition to the obvious fallout from untimely excessive moisture, I’ve always felt that equally devastating are some of the less obvious, sometimes hidden consequences. These include: excessive soil nitrogen loss from denitrification, delayed plant growth from anaerobic soil conditions, a multitude of plant diseases brought on by wet conditions both in the soil and on plant leaves, soil compaction from wheel traffic on wet fields, and pasture damage from livestock pugging.

To be sure, excessive rainfall causes a plethora of problems and there were many regions that dealt with most or all of them in the past couple of months.


An extended drought can bring even the strongest person to their knees. Corn curls or doesn’t pollinate, perennial forages dry and go dormant, annual forages just die, and the view from the kitchen window turns to 50 shades of brown. Production is lost and the only cure is moisture, which short of irrigation we have no control over. Insect pressure also ramps up during dry conditions, further complicating the picture as decisions have to be made if control is warranted given the low yield potential.

Nitrate accumulation in forages is always a concern in drought years, especially following a rainfall event.

Often, but not always, the full effect of drought is not realized until midsummer or later. In such cases, even if the drought breaks, there is precious little growing season left to bolster forage inventories. Coming up with Plan B, C, and D is not always easy and rarely are they as good as Plan A.

Drought cuts into stored forage inventories and in extreme cases forces the sale of livestock. It can be a business altering experience.

So what’s worse . . . wet or dry?

Again, intensity, soil type, and timing are really the drivers here, and either situation can be devastating.

In my opinion, there is nothing worse than an extended drought that doesn’t break until late in the growing season. I’ve personally experienced more excessively wet seasons than dry ones, but most of those extended wet times were in the first half of the growing season, allowing more time to replant or grow additional feed if needed. The pastures, of course, never quit growing. Drought years, especially the hot ones, challenged normal sanity and took longer to recover from.

Price volatility and weather extremes seem to define our current existence. The prudent operator plans for both.

What’s your opinion? Feel free to leave comments below.