Is Drought Coming in on a Cloud of Dust?

Husker Home Place

Spring fieldwork goes on at rapid pace, but farmers feel uneasy about the warmth and drought this early in the season.

Published on: April 10, 2012

I’ve been holding back. I’ve been patiently waiting, not wanting to write about the unusually warm and dry weather the state has experienced in recent months. I understand weather patterns around here.

There is no pattern. Our normal weather is the average of two extremes. It is either too wet or too dry. We’ve seen both in the same summer. But this spring even has veteran farmers and ranchers scratching their heads, trying to recall a similar year with similar conditions. Most can’t do it. And Sandhills ranchers say that their part of the state is always just two weeks away from drought.

CLOUD OF DUST: You have to look closely through the dust for this tractor working the ground in northern Pierce County.
CLOUD OF DUST: You have to look closely through the dust for this tractor working the ground in northern Pierce County.

I’m not much of an alarmist. I believe that weather normally evens out. If we have a warm, dry winter, we would usually expect a cold and wet spring. The balancing act eventually swings back and brings us our normal somehow.

But lately, I’ve been working through all of my usual rituals, trying to bring about a good, general rain. I have been praying for rain, which is my first order of business. But I’ve also pulled out other practices like washing vehicles and leaving the pickup windows down overnight. Then the barn cats decided to bed down in my pickup seat, so that didn’t work out very well.

I have watched cloud after cloud pass over us without a drop. Farmers working the ground now appear like a big cloud of dust moving through the field, with tractors and implements entirely obscured. The only constant lately has been the wind. On warm days, it is blowing from the south. On recent colder days, it comes in from the north and northwest, but it is always blowing.

I still believe that things will balance on the weather scene. I won’t be surprised if the warm weather gives way to freezing temperatures and snow. I won’t be surprised if our winter drought gives way to a wet and cold planting season. But it is always good to have a drought plan in this part of the country.

Think about what you would do to feed your cow herd if your hay pile disappeared and you were forced to drylot your cows for several months because pastures were too short. Should you be planting additional forages in your yards or lots to fill the gaps? Are there pastures that could be better utilized if they were divided into paddocks and grazed in rotation?

Think about the amount of risk you have on dryland crop land, and about the crop insurance coverage you have. Are there ways to reduce your risk, cut your costs and still produce a great crop? Are there ways to better utilize the inputs that you purchase?

Think about how you might tighten your belt on the farm and with your family expenses if the bumper crops and high prices we’ve experienced in recent years would suddenly evaporate. Think like farmers in the 1930s thought. Think about conserving resources, including feedstuffs, water and money.

Drought planning now could prevent disaster later. And the best thing for all of us would be if the rains would come and we would never have to use it. The forecast looks good for this week, so we’ll wait and see. I suppose I could leave my windows down again.