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Submitted Photo Mark Spadgenske feeds his dairy cows on a family farm near Menahga. Area farmers have been dealt an especially tough hand this spring with an extended winter cutting into pasture and planting times.

Cold spring puts squeeze on area farmers

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While most people in our area might see the recent late-winter weather as an irritating inconvenience, for a select group of workers, it means a major disruption of their livelihood. The farmers in and around Wadena County now have to contend with problems like delayed planting for corn, less hay to use as feed and newborn calves that have to spend the first hours of their lives in harsher conditions.

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Scott Dau, general manager at Leaf River Ag Co-op in Wadena, said this year comes as a special shock because last spring fell on the opposite end of the weather spectrum.

“Last year was an exception from the standpoint of a good dry spring, warmth, everybody got their work done,” he said. “This year is exactly the opposite. We’re going to be behind.”

Dau said crop farmers are seeing a starting time that’s delayed even when compared to past years that were more moderate than the unseasonably warm 2012 spring. The colder weather this year means a setback of about 10-15 days, he said. If the winter hangs around to the point where corn farmers can’t get their fields planted by first two weeks of May, yields may suffer as a result. However, Dau said soybeans are typically planted in the latter half of May anyway, so they would likely be unaffected. 

By contrast, the cold weather can be a death sentence to extremely sensitive newborn calves that are struck down by exposure despite the farmer’s best efforts to protect them. Dau told of how his own farm had four calves die in as many days this spring. For Dau, the loss of his “babies” isn’t measured in just dollars.

“I really don’t like to talk about it, because it makes you feel like a failure,” he said. “You take it personal.”

Dave Bauck, a crop / beef farmer near New York Mills, said he has also lost calves this season. He listed a variety of other problems the harsh spring poses to cattle farms in addition to lost calves. For example, cattle will go out to pasture later, which in turn causes a farmer to rely more on stored feed – the prices for which have skyrocketed in some cases lately.

“Everything costs more,” Bauck said. “Hay from a year ago has more than doubled in price.”

 Kristine Spadgenske owns a dairy farm with her husband near Menahga, but they also raise their own feed crops. She said that her farm’s pasture time was also delayed, and even when the pasture is mostly clear of snow, they’ll still have to use stored food while they wait for the new grass to come in.

“There won’t be anything out there for (the cows),” she said. “We’ll have to feed them hay and grain out there until it starts to green up.”

Spadgenske echoed a sentiment about the weather that seemed to be pretty common among her peers.

“It’s getting kind of frustrating at this point,” she said.

 
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