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Its no secret that cold weather affects farming. Extremely cold temperatures have a large number of agricultural implications. Much of the United States, at least in the central and eastern states, have been affected by the cold since December. The upper US has gotten some extreme northerly winds out of Canada’s interior that have resulted in record low temperatures east of the Rocky Mountains, dropping down as low as -45 degrees F in Minnesota at the end of last month, while the coldest day, so far was -6 degrees F in Glasgow Montana.

Indeed, Minnesota suffered its lowest week of temperatures since 1886 in the last week of December and even the southern states have not been completely spared. Snow has been falling along the Gulf Coast and Florida has seen its first snowfall since 1989! The question is then; what does this mean for farming? How is farming affected by the cold weather, and what changes need to be made?

Winter wheat is a crop that is obviously the most vulnerable. The full effects of the extreme cold from this winter will not be fully known until spring time. Snow can act as an insulator against the cold, thus exacerbating the damage from the cold.

Livestock can also be greatly affected and producers need to take extra precautions during these extreme cold spells. Water sources need to be kept thawed and animals need to have extra feed available to withstand a winter such as this. All of this adds up to extra cost for the livestock producers.

However, extreme cold have also have its benefits. A deep freeze will freeze the soil far beneath the ground and current frost depths are already exceeding 40 inches in various parts of the Midwest. This can have a few different benefits:

  1. The cold will help keep the fall applied nitrogen treatments from volatilizing during the winter, which will greatly reduce the loss of this key input.
  2. The freeze/thaw cycle can also serve to soften the soil and reduce compacting after the soil thaws. This will result in added soil benefits.
  3. Extreme cold will almost always reduce the survival rate of various pest and insects that will help with the upcoming growing season. Any time there are less insects to deal with, the crops will benefit.

Overall, cold weather can impact farming both positively and negatively.

The area of the country you live in will have a lot to do with it, as will the crops that you are planting and harvesting. Livestock producers are perhaps the most negatively affected by extreme cold, but many agricultural farmers will find some benefits even in a brutal winter.