The heat is on (Pig Tales)
(Editor’s note: Dr. Rich Barczewski is an associate professor at Delaware State University.)
While we have been blessed with some real spring temperatures this year, we have also seen some hot temperatures as well.
It is very difficult for us to get through a summer without experiencing some extremes in temperatures and along with those extremes comes detrimental effects on plants and animals alike.
During a recent heat wave (three days or more of 90-plus degree high temperatures), the effects of the high heat on our crops was evident as many corn fields had plants in them that started curling.
Basically, non-succulent plants (which include our crop species), have very little protection against high heat coupled with drought.
In severe cases, these plants can actually die from these conditions but usually, the first visual sign is a curling of the corn leaf.
This curling reduces the surface area of the plant exposed to the sun, and helps to protect the plant from some moisture loss.
The best defense against this yield reducing condition is irrigation.
Some folks who are not familiar with agricultural production may wonder why we have seen an increase in irrigation systems across Delmarva in the past 30 years or so.
Basically it is an insurance against drought.
Drought is usually associated with heat and together they can decimate a crop.
Additionally, irrigation, properly used can be a big yield enhancer.
The research has been done and it is generally known how much water a corn plant needs throughout its growing cycle.
Making sure that the water is present can go a long way towards maximizing yield. I’ve once heard that corn has the physiological potential to yield 600 bushels per acre. Getting closer to that yield potential, could go a long way towards meeting the world’s demand for food.
Animals also show some detrimental signs when exposed to heat. Obviously, high temperatures result in our livestock becoming more lethargic.
Heck, in high temperatures, I’d much rather be in a lounge chair sipping an iced tea than working but when things have to be done, we need to do what we have to do.
The critical thing to remember is to keep yourself hydrated, wear light colored clothing and take frequent breaks so you do not overheat yourself.
I spent a few days in Arizona about 10 years ago for a conference and while there, folks continually reminded us to keep drinking water.
The temperatures were 103 degrees with very low humidity and sweat never really appeared on your skin.
It quickly evaporated so you never realized you were sweating and losing moisture from your body.
Water is one of the keys to avoiding serious health conditions in extreme heat.
The same is true for our livestock. It is essential that fresh, cool water be provided on a continual basis to our animals. It is also helpful if shade is available so they can get out of the sun which tends to worsen the effects of the heat. If you provide water through some self-watering system, check the temperature of the water during the hotter part of the day to make sure it is not hot.
As it comes out of the ground, most water is around 55 degrees, however if sitting in a tub, or in a pipe, it can get quite a bit warmer and in some extreme cases, downright hot! The only way to be sure is to check it.
One additional problem the heat has on livestock is its tendency to impact fertility. Male animals, when exposed to heat above 90 degrees for an extended period can become infertile (usually about four to six weeks after the heat exposure).
Females can often experience greater early embryonic mortality as a result of exposure to high heat. Shade, sprinkler systems, plenty of fresh cool drinking water and fans can go a long way to minimizing the effects of high environmental temperatures.
So do not take periods of high temperatures for granted. Be aware of the negative impacts of heat and take the necessary steps to minimize their effects on your crops and livestock when you can.
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