Agriculture depends on whims of weather

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Farm Forum

As welcome rains have come through our area, some have been hit with devastating hail and strong winds. The unknown potential perils of weather patterns are a constant struggle. While conditions started to get dry at our place, we missed out on bad weather and received a good 1.5 inches of rain.

Our yard has responded with an abundance of blooming perennials. Raspberries bushes are full of berries, apple trees are laden with fruit, and I might finally get some bush cherries. Weeds flourish as well with a lot of time spent seeking the bits of purslane and creeping jenny that are coming up between the cardboard laid between rows in my vegetable garden. The first garden-grown tomato was a welcome treat. As I have six bushes providing me with summer squash, I found recipes to make zucchini into crispy chips and healthy hot dishes.

Walking down the gravel road, with soybeans on one side and corn on the other, I can see it is a great growing season in our part of the world. Corn tassels are stretching to the sky. My nephew Billy from Texas visited, and one of the things he remembered well was running through the corn fields when he was a kid. Our weed control program makes it easier to traverse the rows. His newly adopted sons, who are city kids, were awed by the size of the corn plants. I did have to explain that this is not the corn that shows up on dinner tables but is used in the making ethanol with the dried distiller’s grain fed to livestock. That’s a great piece of information to take home with them.

Recently, Dale and I visited our daughter and son-in-law in San Jose, Calif., to welcome our new grandson Avi. All are doing well, and it was great to spend time out there. The crisp, dry grass and brown hills are a reminder that many areas are suffering from drought. In cities roses bloomed in yards; using water for yards was discouraged. And no doubt, farmers are hurt most by the lack of moisture.

When we drove around the area, Dale and I thought about how devastating conditions were for the farmers of the state.

According to a story in The Atlantic on March 21, 2015, “The Economics of California’s Drought,” the article stated “California’s agricultural output demands a lot of water. Irrigation claims up to 41 percent of the state’s water supply, while cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco demand comparatively little. Crops such as almonds, grown exclusively in California in the United States, consume 600 gallons of water per pound of nuts, more than 25 times the water needed per pound of tomato.”

The article pointed out, “For Californian agriculture, the future does not look bright. The current drought cost the sector an estimated $2.2 billion last year, and nearly 17,000 farmers lost their jobs in 2014. Given the importance of California’s agriculture to the food supply of the United States — and the rest of the world — the state’s drought is far from just a local concern.”

While we were in California, the concern about watering lawns was a hot topic, but the relevance to agriculture was lost for many. With such a huge area being impacted by lack of rain, resulting increased prices will put additional pressure on agriculture there and here. On Monday, a board in California proposed the first-of-its-kind, $1.5 million fine for water-taking in drought.

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows how the patterns have shifted since last year when we were in the bullseye for drought . The USDA declared drought areas in more than 1,000 counties spread across 26 states. The definition for a drought disaster means there has to be eight weeks of severe drought during this growing season. Currently, 35 percent of the West is facing severe to exceptional drought. The western one-fourth of the United States is suffering while Texas and Oklahoma, recently in the drought, have been getting drenched. A friend who is a custom combiner has been waiting for fields in Texas to dry to finish up the crops of his customers.

As we wait and watch the clouds, we know that we in agriculture are dependent on what the winds and weather fronts will bring to us. Each year we wait and hope. The cycle continues as wheat begins to ripen and soon it will be time to harvest this year’s crops. While we are cognizant of the struggles of those facing drought, we are thankful for the many blessings we have.

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