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Weather Poses Farmer Headaches Both Sides of Atlantic

26 March 2014

GLOBAL - Two radically different farming challenges are being presented to beef producers on each side of the Atlantic.

In Western Europe, a mild and very wet winter has led to grass parasite warnings, while many US farmers still wait for a spring thaw after a headline grabbing whiteout.

Leatherjackets, liver fluke and soil mineral leaching could be widespread this spring across the UK, advisers are saying.

“We can’t yet be sure how much of an effect the tremendously wet winter has had on soil mineral levels, but we do know that magnesium deficiency is always a significant threat at turnout,” warned Rumenco technical manager David Thornton last month.

He described the higher chance of grass staggers because of potassium – a magnesium antagonist.

And for UK farmers further north, a lack of ground frost means insect larvae could pressurise grass production this year.

Seed producer Barenburg have told Scottish Border farmers that Leatherjackets (crane fly larvae) have caused extensive winter damage to grass roots after wintering higher up the soil profile.

The solution, according to Barenbrug’s regional manager Mhairi Dawson, involves the cultural solution of summer ploughing and control through Chlorpyrifos chemistry.

Summer ploughing can destroy half of the leatherjackets and expose them to predatory birds. Leatherjacket movment can be restricted by heavy rolling," added Mrs Dawson. 

A further danger this spring is liver fluke – also from the wet winter.

A fluke infection costs £87 per effected beef animal, EBLEX research has found.

This is why Merial Animal Health suggested treating for fluke eight to 10 weeks after turnout this week.

Merial’s advice hinges on the eight to 12 week delay between fluke infections from pasture and adults laying eggs in the liver.

Contrastingly, rather than being problematic, frozen ground has been presented a possible money saving area for US farmers looking to repair pasture.

Ohio State University educator Rory Lewandowski has suggested allowing freeze thaw action to put grass seed in contact with top soil.

This slashes cultivation costs and, if done with legumes, supplies grasses with nitrogen to boost growth, he added.

Over in Minnesota, concerned Alfalfa growers have been reassured that snow cover should be minimising winter damage and loss.

Crop specialist Phyllis Bongard has reported that, while air temperatures have been -22F across the state, snow depth has prevented extreme changes in soil temperature.

Alfalfa crowns are susceptible to damage and death from soil temperatures of 15F and below, said Mrs Bongard.

She concluded that, even with the -20 F air temperatures of January, alfalfa winterkill risk is ‘minimal’.

Michael Priestley

Michael Priestley
News Team - Editor

Mainly production and market stories on ruminants sector. Works closely with sustainability consultants at FAI Farms


Top image via Shutterstock

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