As I’m sure you’re aware, the Suffolk County Water Authority has declared a stage one water emergency. Water restrictions have been put in place in parts of Suffolk and Nassau counties within the last few days. We are reading daily about dangerous drought conditions across the Western half of the US and similar conditions exist across the rest of the world. It's all very alarming.
As the effects of climate change become more apparent, I suspect that water scarcity will increasingly become a topic of conversation and concern for all of us. With the weather on my mind, I wanted to provide some thoughts on this topic and how we can work together to address the issue.
Unfortunately, droughts are a regular occurrence. By no means am I trying to minimize today's conditions, but it is important to put today's conditions into context. Drought is when there is a significant reduction in normal precipitation. Most farmers will tell you that, unfortunately, it happens often.
At Acabonac Farms we track 'normal' precipitation over a rolling five-year period. We then compare that five-year average to current precipitation over a rolling two-week period. We are currently running about one-half of one inch below our five-year average at our ranch in Middle Island. Being short one-half of one-inch hurts when you are on sandy soils, and you do not irrigate (and we do not). To put it into context: over the past five years we've averaged 30 inches of rain between April through November on our Middle Island ranch, but we only average 7.5 inches in July and August. So, any amount of precipitation below normal in an otherwise aired environment is a concern.
Water grows grass, and since our cattle are on a 100% grass diet, we are a bit obsessive about the topic, especially in August!
Since starting Acaboanc Farms we've focused on production methods that promote the health of our soil. We do this for many reasons, but one of them is because healthy functioning soil catches and retains moisture. And that really matters. It is not simply how often and how much it rains, but how much of the rainfall is captured and retained by our soil and then utilized by our grasses - a process we call the water-cycle.
Some of the practices that we use to improve the water-cycle in our soils include:
- No-till operations - we seed our fields with minimal use of tillage equipment.
- Little use of heavy machinery in our fields, including tractors - minimizes soil compaction.
- Perennial grasses are kept in a vegetative state - growing roots of various types of grass and legumes build soil organic matter and keep the soil covered and cool during the entire growing season.
- No use of pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides - we promote health and life, not death.
- Annual grass rotations - especially in the hotter months to maintain the vigorous growth and decay of plants and root residuals.
- Managed rotational grazing of livestock - to minimizes any soil compaction caused by our grazing livestock.
The result is growth in the soil organic matter, reduced soil compaction, and greater functioning of the water-cycle in our soil structure. This allows us to capture and retain more of our annual precipitation every year. And it does not cost us anything to do this beyond a bit more thinking.
Many of our visitors ask about the impact of the heat and dry conditions on our cattle. This is obviously a major concern for us.
During the warmer days of July and August, our cattle change their eating behaviors. Typically, our cattle graze three times per day - morning, afternoon, and evening. As temperatures rise, our cattle adjust, preferring to skip their mid-day meal and instead graze longer during the cooler morning and evenings.
We do our best to always provide shade for our herds during the day and, of course, always have fresh cool water nearby. We also adjust the times that we rotate our cattle to the very early mornings, often well before sunrise.
And finally, we raise cattle with genetics suited for this climate. Over generations, much like humans, cattle adjust to their climates - remember that some of the largest cattle states in the US are Florida and Texas. That could not have happened unless certain cattle genetics were well adjusted to the heat.
Consumers often ask what they can do to assist in fighting climate change and drought.
Firstly, I always suggest furthering your knowledge on the topic. The more engaged we are, the smarter we will be.
Secondly, I suggest that, if possible, you buy your foods from farms that use regenerative farming practices such as those I mentioned earlier in this article. If more consumer dollars are flowing to farmers that promote soil health in their operations the practice of sustainable regenerative farming will become more popular. And this is critical to the health of our environment and our own health.
The next four weeks will be our toughest of the year. It will be hot and dry. We are as prepared as possible here at Acabonac Farms. If you'd like to discuss this topic further, schedule a farm visit or ring me on 631-731-2520.
In the meantime, stay safe, pray for rain, and buy some of our steaks!