Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Talking about the weather - long term forecasts

One of the blogs I watch is written by a professor of meteorology over at the University of Washington, a fellow named Cliff Mass.

Professor Mass' blog is one of the reasons that I chose to plant the crops I did this year, and so far, he's been spot on in his prediction of a warmer, drier summer than usual.  So when he posted recently about long-term forecasts for the coming 12 months, I'm all ears.

In short, he's saying that there's a pretty good chance that we will get less rain this winter (and have lower snowpack levels) than in an average year, and that this could mean water shortages for the cities around here.  It doesn't mean that we'll get no rain, like the 55 day no-rain period we had just end, but it does make a difference in my farm plan.

As far as drinking water and water for the animals, I've got two sources that won't be affected much by the drought.  One is that I'm allowed to draw 5,000 gallons a day out of the local river to water the livestock, and the second is that I've got two deep wells, one that services the barns, and one that services the house and offices and milking parlor, and I have senior water rights to many acre feet of water from those wells.

But as far as water goes, one of the biggest assets I've got on my farm is my manure lagoon.  It holds about 11 acre feet of water, and is part of the system that makes sure that any nutrients that my farm produces stays on my farm.  We collect the manure in solid and liquid form during the months where it is too cold for plants to use it, and spread it on the plants when its warm enough for them to benefit.   All of the water that hits the concrete between the barns makes its way into the manure lagoon via a large pump.  

So Dr. Mass' predictions mean that I'm going to do the following this winter:

1) Keep the manure lagoon pretty close to full at the start of the growing season; which around here starts in on April 25th... well, earlier than that probably this year.  Remember -- warmer than normal conditions.  So by the 1st week of April, I want to be at the top.

2) Install efficient irrigation systems for those crops and plants that might need it.  For me, this means I'll put in drip tape for the grapes and probably for the fruit trees I've planted.

3) Finish the work removing solids from the manure lagoon so that I have the maximum capacity available

4) Seriously consider getting some sort of irrigation equipment for watering my pastures.  Something like a wheel line would probably work pretty well.

This year I've found that an inch or two of water at the right time increases growth quite a bit, so I want to make sure that I'll all set in the event that the long term forecasts are correct.   Irrigation means that my pastures are growing about twice the rate of the neighboring fields, and that makes a different to my farms bottom line, too.

The long term forecasts have been correct so far, so I don't have much reason to doubt them now.

1 comment:

Bill Gauch said...

I'd be surprised if you needed any watering on your fruit trees after the first year. You might (but probably won't) need it in a long, extended drought. However, the worst case is that you will get stress-induced fruit drop. And as for grapes, you only need to water if you want big, fat, watery, flavorless grapes. If you're going for wine/jelly, drier is better. You will get small, super flavorful grapes that way.