Along with Death and Taxes, Drought and Hail Were Certain

Husker Home Place

Growing up on the farm, drought and hail were summer events as sure as July 4th fireworks and the county fair.

Published on: June 19, 2012

This growing season reminds me more of my days growing up in the 1970s, than the last few fantastic growing seasons.

In those days, the only sure thing about summer was hail and drought, often in the same week. During the 1970s, part of our farm experienced hail about 7 out of ten years. That means that we became quite astute at predicting hail losses before a crop adjuster ever arrived.

We farm in what has traditionally been oats country in Nebraska, where the vast majority of oats has been raised over the past century. Certainly that has shifted in recent years, but a fair share of oats is still raised here for forages, hay, grazing, grain, cover crops and seed.

BAKING: This season, poor spots in the fields exhibit heat and moisture stress.
BAKING: This season, poor spots in the fields exhibit heat and moisture stress.

In the 1970s, a corn/oats rotation was more common than corn and soybeans. One early July evening, when our oats crop looked especially promising and was only two weeks away from harvest, a devastating hail storm rumbled through our farm.

Golf-ball sized hail pummeled our buildings, vehicles and crops. We sat at the kitchen table, praying the hail would stop, as 50 m.p.h. wind drove hail stones through kitchen windows and onto the table. In a matter of minutes, the storm passed. But the complete devastation was evident right away.

I’ll never forget the look on my Dad’s face as he stepped onto the south porch of the house to survey the oats field just outside the door. Before the storm, he had been talking about yields in excess of 120 bushels per acre. He said it was the best oats crop he’d ever seen. Afterward, the entire field was flattened. Before walking out to survey damage, he knew there was nothing left.

GOOD SHAPE: In other spots where soil conditions are better, corn is chest high and healthy green.
GOOD SHAPE: In other spots where soil conditions are better, corn is chest high and healthy green.

We counted on the oats crop to feed sows and cows, and for straw bedding. So, even with crop insurance, the loss was tough to take.

Another summer, I recall the family sitting on the porch swing of that same south porch every time a dark blue rain cloud would muster. We prayed together for a general rain that would alleviate the drought conditions. Our pastures were dead and corn was shriveling in the fields. In late July, after the crops had been baking for some time, a storm came through and dumped a half inch of rain on the farm for the first time in a month and a half. Puddles formed on the farm. We have pictures of my brother and I and our visiting aunt sitting in mud puddles to cool off. We were so happy for that half inch of rain.

These were normal conditions around our place for two decades, while I was growing up. We were constantly praying for rain, and praying that the crops would be safe. Some years, crops were very poor. Other years, little rains fell often enough to overcome dry conditions. There were years when hail completely devastated our crops, and other years when the timing or size of the hail allowed crops to survive. It seemed to me as a kid that our crops were always in the path of peril. Our prayers were answered, however, because somehow my parents were always able to pay the bills.

The past few years have been wonderful. Our crops and pastures have thrived. A year like this reinforces our appreciation for the good years, and helps us realize that we should never take our livelihood on the farm for granted.

Any childhood growing seasons you would like to share?