Predicting the future is something I would never claim to do with any degree of confidence or accuracy. Often, the best way to predict the future is to look at historical data for trends and combine these data with current conditions. In fact, this is the type of methodology used to predict long-term weather events such as drought. And while the past might be the best indicator of trends to come, combining this historical data with current conditions is not always a reliable indicator of even the short-term future, much less the long-term future.
The U.S. stock market is a prime example of where we try to find accurate prediction models. It should be a simple task if we just look at the past trends and add the current data, we should be able to predict the future. Here we go: Did you know that when the first week in January is an up week for the stock market, we typically have an up year? Furthermore, when the entire month of January is up, which it was in 2004 (Dow + 0.3%, S&P + 1.7% and NASDAQ +3.0%), the market has been bullish for that year in 49 of the last 53 years since 1950, a predictability factor of 92.4 percent.
However, over the past 37 years, when the NFC wins the Super Bowl, which they did not this year (New England Patriots of the AFC beat the Carolina Panthers of the NFC), the stock market is up with an 82 percent predictability. Why, oh why, did the Panthers have to lose, causing my two favorite stock market indicators to contradict? Oh well, if I can find some loose change, I'll worry about where to put it when the time comes.
Where were we Oh yeah, weather and drought predictions. I don't know who you use as a weatherman (meteorologist?), but mine is lucky to get the 24-hour forecast right 50 percent of the time. That's why, I think, I may put more confidence in the stock market going up when the NFC wins the Super Bowl.
We all know that drought will occur sometimes, as will wet years, cold years, hot years, etc. I don't know what 2004 holds in store for the weather in fact, I've thrown my crystal ball away for good and vowed never to predict the weather for you again, not even with the use of my trusty persimmon seeds. But I will share with you my five weather-related strategies for 2004:
- Place your bet on what is normal. In Carter County, Okla., normal monthly rainfall for the past 100 years is shown in Figure 1. Expect maximum rainfall to occur from April through June and September to October and plan accordingly. Know when to expect forages to begin growing and when they lose quality. Also, know when to fertilize, do so in a timely fashion and quit guessing what blend to apply. Get out there and take some soil samples, for goodness sake, so we can help you more efficiently utilize your resources.
- Hedge your bet in case of a dry year. Drought can drastically impact your operation if you wait until it's too late to decide what you should do. Have a plan of action in place, such as a culling protocol, pastures to lease, feed in reserve, alternative enterprises or flexible stocking rates (70 percent cows and 30 percent stockers).
- Be optimistic. Have a plan in place to capitalize on wet years. Most of you establish your stocking rates based on the carrying capacity of the best year you can remember bad mistake. This causes you to be overstocked in normal years and drastically overstocked in drought years. Be conservative to begin with, and take advantage of the good years. Put up or sell additional hay, retain your calves on grass or buy additional stockers if the market is favorable, prepare for a prescribed fire to rid the land of Eastern redcedar or simply give the land back more than usual.
- Record your rainfall weekly and know your soil moisture conditions. If you have a dry subsoil in June, don't expect the forthcoming precipitation to be very effective for plant growth. A good place to monitor soil moisture conditions is through the Oklahoma Mesonet, which can be found at http://agweather.mesonet.ou.edu/. In fact, this site will provide you with a wealth of information and is very deserving of a bookmark.
- Remember, drought is normal. Don't let it surprise you when it happens. In fact, we typically have a seasonal drought from June-August every year. Don't expect your grass to grow much with limited moisture, 100-degree temperatures and winds over 15 MPH. And even if it does rain in July, expect it to be dry again within three to five days. Write down your critical rainfall dates for the forages you are growing and know that when you come up short, the probability of drought is increasing.
Just remember, seldom do we experience a normal year, so plan accordingly. Expect your forage production to be from 75 percent to 125 percent of normal.