From December of 2015 to February of 2016, el Niño hit countries like Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru. A natural phenomenon caused by fluctuations in the temperatures of the Pacific Ocean, el Niño led to extreme droughts in these countries. In turn, this drought generated onerous losses for farmers throughout the region. Similarly, there was a deficit in the production of goods and prices skyrocketed. This article focuses on lessons learned from el Niño and prevention practices to overcome weather fluctuations.
Preparing for Weather Variations and Dry Seasons
Countries in the tropical region are not used to having strong seasons. They do not experience seasonal rotations of cold winters, rainy springs, hot summers, nor colorful falls. However, due to their topography, temperatures vary in each country. In general, there is simply a wet and a dry season, whose dates vary by country depending on how far north or south they are from the equator. Therefore, farmers are not used to dramatic changes in rainfall or temperatures.
Due to the altitude of some regions, weather fluctuations may not be as strong. In Medellin, Colombia, temperatures remain stable at around 80°F during the daytime and around 50°F at nighttime. Medellin sits at 5,000 feet above sea level and temperatures do not fluctuate greatly, which allows flowers, fruits, and vegetables to grow year round. As a result, it is known as ¨The City of Eternal Spring¨. Furthermore, farmers in the region are used to approximately six months of little rain followed six months of heavy rain. With temperatures that allow for crops to grow throughout the whole year.
This past year, however, el Niño took industries by surprise and proved the importance of prevention practices. As published by the Americas Society – Council of the Americas, the reported losses so far include a push back on the harvest of Brazil´s soy and corn crops as well as a reduction in the production of Central American corn by 60 percent. Similarly, Colombia´s barley industry reported a 50 percent production decrease as well as a 44 percent decrease on wheat and 27 percent on corn. Finally, Mexico noted a decrease in the production of asparagus, scallion, and green onions, alongside Peru’s decrease on cattle production. Thus, it is important for farmers to take the necessary precaution during the productive months and find ways to become sustainable during seasons of weather hardship. Below are some of the most efficient ways to survive the hard times.
Seasonal and Weather Resistant Crops
Farmers need to figure out what the weather typically looks like during each month in their respective areas. When the dry season is coming, they should not plant a crop that requires lots of water, such as peas, sweet potatoes, and some kinds of corn. If a farmer harvests only one kind of crop, then he or she should plant its most weather resistant strand. Even though these seeds may be more expensive, they will pay off if drought hits. One example is grass, if hot months are coming, farmers should plant a kind of grass that is resistant to dry conditions. There are kinds of grass that actually grow during the hot months, such as Bahiagrass, Bermudagrass, and Millets. It is a matter of planning. Similarly, if wet months are coming, farmers should employ a seed that is resistant and thrives with lots of water.
Farmers should avoid planting the same crop all year round. Instead, they could find products to boost their soil in order to help the cultivation of their main crop. By rotating crops, farmers ensure all nutrients remain available to every crop. Likewise, rotating crops throughout the year ensures having enough nutrients to grow a diversity of goods. An example is that of rotation in the planting of grass for dairy farms. Grass needs nitrogen to grow; therefore, rotating grass with legumes helps with the absorption of nitrogen for the grass. Legumes and bacteria help restore the soil, which increases nitrogen absorption by grass.
As a rule of thumb, farmers should never wait until livestock consume all their grass to go buy hay. They should store up food for the tough months ahead. A good practice is to plant grass destined for storage and farmers can even produce their own hay. If land is scarce to grow grass for this purpose, there is potential to buy hay when prices are low and store. Additionally, for crops, make sure to have herbicides, medicines, and fertilizers stored up for wet and dry seasons. These tend to become more expensive as times get harder. Once you run out of water or food, your last thought will be to fertilize and you will not want a bug to attack your crops or livestock when there is little cash flow coming in.
Prevention is key and farmers cannot hope that weather conditions remain stable throughout the years. They need to plan and have sustainable practices to survive through tough seasons. Investing in resistant seeds, rotating crops, and stocking up on fertilizers and medicines could help mitigate the effects of weather fluctuations. As of today, there are warnings about the next big challenge, la Niña. Which has the opposite effects as el Niño. Regions across the world will be hit in different ways and farmers need to start planning now.
*Andrea Rangel is a Colombian entrepreneur and she holds a degree in finance and economics from the University of North Carolina. She has worked as financial analyst for a multinational company based in Winston-Salem, NC and has been a writer for the Global Economic Intersect, where she developed content for several years. Currently, Andrea Rangel is the finance manager for Agroskills S.A.S in Bogotá, Colombia.