Enough of drought for one lifetime

by ‎07-16-2012 11:23 AM - edited ‎07-20-2012 01:47 PM



A column last week by veteran farmer and marketing expert Roy Smith reminded me that drought is something that goes around and comes around a fair number of times in a farming career.  


He recollects the dry years of the mid-fifties, which saw droughty spells that lasted most of the summer for three years on his eastern Nebraska farm.


Then again in mid-seventies: “The heat was so intense that the corn leaves curled up before any hint of pollination.” And he recounted dry stretches on his place in the summer of ’99 and again in 2002 and 2003.


Going further back, my first exposure to drought lore were the stories my mom told me of the Dust Bowl days of the mid-thirties. A young child then, she remembered her folks walking up the hill in the back pasture to watch the western sky for any sign of a rain cloud, which never would come in time to save the crops.  My grandfather told me that in one of those years his entire wheat crop was stored in two gunnysacks.  


My first personal experience with drought was from a distance. I wrote a free-lance story in the mid-seventies about practices plains cattle producers could use to try to deal with the extreme weather. I remember thinking that it all seemed so kind of futile.


Then in ’88 I helped a Successful Farming magazine team cover that major national drought with reports from across the country.  Our August cover story started out:


“Fifty years from now, the old timers will recall the drought of ’88. A leathery old cowboy may say it was the only year, before or since, that the stock ponds actually dried up. A dairyman will remember how the neighborhood sent a scout clear to Canada with one mission: Find hay.


“And, someone will recall, 1988 was the time when one farmer—never much for church—got on his knees, joined calloused hands with his neighbor—and prayed for rain.”


I suspect you can probably find a drought story from just about every farm in every decade.  It's all a sober reminder why farm program safety nets and risk management strategies were created in the first place.


What drought stories are part of your farming career?

on ‎07-17-2012 11:12 PM
John, in my farming career, this past two years is on par with the midwestern drought of 1980-81. '88 was your big year but we were more fortunate then. Last year a friend went to visit relatives in the Texas panhandle and he said that a semi hauling hay to points south passed by every 5 minutes on U S 83 near Perryton, 24/7. A friend from Texas told me last week that this is their 3rd year without enough rain to make a crop. Irrigated pivots have been shortened to water fewer acres but the corn may not even make 80. Back when my father farmed in the OKlahoma panhandle, he said it was so bad in both dry periods of the 30's and 50's the cattle fed on cactus plants. They figured out how to eat it without hurting themseles.
on ‎07-17-2012 11:20 PM
Appreciate your thoughts on farm programs and safety nets, too. The question is whether this will have a positive outcome during farm bill discussions on the Hill.