Sports VIEW

Taking its toll

Lisa Paine — Sports Editor

Lisa Paine — Sports Editor

The national media jokes that we all need a good healthy serving of cheese and crackers to go along with our whining about the weather that finally on Monday relinquished its stranglehold on Michigan; at least for the time being.

Oppressive, unrelenting, obnoxious; whatever adjective you are using to describe the blistering heat wave of 2011, the human and wildlife toll continues to grow with more than 22 last counted as succumbing to the heat. The livestock across the nation are dropping in alarming numbers with more than 2,000 dead cows reported, and countless others not reported as of yet. An Iowa farmer had his entire herd of 100 beef cattle die from heat exhaustion or heat stroke, while South Dakota reports its numbers as well above 1,500 and counting.

It’s just another blow to already beleaguered farmers who were first affected by the Midwest and southern floods that wiped out more cattle and farm fields. Others, especially in Texas, have had to sell off entire herds of dairy and beef cattle because the drought that continues has left those farmers with no other options. No hay to be found anywhere in neighboring states also suffering, and with no grasses left to feed, their only options have been to cut their losses to try to save the animals.

We’re all going to end up paying, but in a different way. With crops such as tobacco, cotton, corn and grains also in jeopardy across the nation because of flooding and excessive heat, those costs will have to be passed along to the consumers. Milk and beef supplies are expected to take a nosedive and cattle futures have hit a nine-week high based on the predicted outcomes.

Indemnity payments will be merely a drop in the bucket to the farmers who have faced devastation beyond what they had ever comprehended, but consumers will have to pick up the rest.

Locally, farmers are facing their own tough decisions as the soybean and corn crops are starving for water. The USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack promised farmers, ranchers and others that USDA would continue to work hard to deliver assistance to those in need.

“America’s farmers and rural communities are vitally important to our nation’s economy and our values, and my heart goes out to all who are facing hardships because of severe weather and natural disasters,” said Vilsack. “In the past two months alone, I have visited with hundreds of Americans who have had to put their lives and livelihoods on hold to deal with floods, tornadoes, drought and wildfires. Since the beginning, I have instructed

USDA staff in the affected states that our main priority must be to work with farmers, ranchers and others to explain the type of aid that is available. We will continue to listen to your concerns and, whenever possible, offer assistance to help you through these difficult times.”

Heavy rainfall, then the excessive snowmelt, and ensuing historic floods have wreacked havoc on crops nationwide.

Now, with 4-H fair season knocking on the door in many communities, large barns full of hot animals will become a major management obstacle to overcome as fans, water and carefully monitoring will need to happen. Cows can stop producing milk and chickens will stop laying eggs when they are stressed. Pigs are also susceptible to extreme heat and they, like many animals housed in close quarters in hot barns can also perish. Hundreds of chickens and turkeys in neighboring states also have fallen victim to the heat.

Racetracks across the country have cancelled horse races for the first time in decades and instead are spending days and nights hosing and sponging off expensive racehorses. Turnout and light exercise is now taking place in the wee hours of the morning and at night when the temperatures fall below 80 degrees. Fans, misting systems and human-powered watering and cooling are all they have at hand to try to keep the horses out of danger with barns averaging temperatures inside from the mid-80s to 115 during the oppressive hot and humid daytime.

It’s a nightmare for everyone, man, and man’s best friend. As with all things, this too shall pass, but the toll it has taken on everyone is far greater this year than any we have seen in decades.

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