A Farmer's Reflections on a Saving Rain

Husker Home Place

The emotional agony of waiting for a "saving rain" last summer was tough on farmers and ranchers.

Published on: July 16, 2013

This past Saturday night, something happened at our farm that we were hoping and praying for last summer throughout late June and early July. It rained. Not only did it rain, but we received a good, old-fashioned thunderstorm that sent lightning flashes through the windows and claps of thunder that sent our littlest children into Mom and Dad’s bed. It was great.

Thinking about last summer, we often experienced distant lightning, but the air was so hot and dry that it was only dry lightning that was more suited to starting wildfires than accompanying a rainstorm. Over the past couple of weeks, as our crops have progressed well, neighboring farmers have been reflecting on last summer and what it was really like. Heading out the door around daybreak to temperatures over 90 degrees, experiencing furnace-like hot air blasts, and having several days in a row with high temperatures above 100 degrees and humidity hovering between 20% and 30%, were just a few of the experiences we would like to forget.

NO SAVING RAIN: A little rain could not save this pasture last summer.
NO SAVING RAIN: A little rain could not save this pasture last summer.

Throughout the hottest of the hot days last summer, we all kept hoping for a “saving rain.” Although University of Nebraska Extension specialists had warned us throughout the weeks of the early and middle growing season that a general rain at that point would not erase the damage that had been done, we still looked with hope to the sky every evening. Perhaps the crops were too far along to recover, even if it did rain, but emotionally, a general rain at that point would have boosted the summer drought blues.

Unfortunately, that saving rain never came. It didn’t cool off. My children slept near the air conditioner in our living room during the hottest spell, because our little air conditioner in the upstairs of our old farmhouse was not suited for those hot nights.

We strung together five tiny cloudbursts from June through September that totaled about a half inch of moisture, and that’s about it. We watched the crops shrivel. We watched our pastures disappear. For our farm, we were forced to sell off a majority of our little cow-calf herd, for lack of available, affordable forages. It was the summer that wouldn’t end.

The emotional burden of waiting for the saving rain to come was perhaps the most difficult. We felt that if we could just get one nice rain, it would help. Once July was completed and August rolled around, all hopes for such a rain were lost, and it seemed that it was almost a relief. Emotionally, we were forced then to deal with the drought on realistic terms, to secure feedstuffs for livestock, to plan for an extremely thin harvest, and to strategically set course for another growing season that could have repeated the same.

Much of the central and western parts of Nebraska have not recovered in 2013 from last summer’s drought and fires. Moisture is still at a premium for many areas. Here, we’ve received welcome moisture throughout the early growing season, although subsoil moisture is quite short. Last week as the hot winds began to blow, although pastures here look remarkably good and humidity levels have been high, you could see the worried looks on farmers’ faces. They were remembering last summer, and hoping this July wouldn’t be a repeat. That’s why the thunderstorm Saturday night that dropped about an inch and a half of precipitation on our thirsty crops and pastures was such a big deal. We would have jumped head over heels for such a rain last summer. This summer, it is appreciated so much because of those very recent experiences.

So, here is this week’s discussion question. What was the worst thing for your operation about last summer’s drought? You can share your thoughts and comments here.

Check out Nebraska Farmer online for the latest news on the growing and grazing season. You can read my new print column – Bow Creek Chronicles – in Nebraska Farmer magazine, or follow Husker Home Place on Twitter. And watch this blog the last Friday of every month for my “Field Editor’s Report” featuring the positive stories about the families who raise our food. Pass it on!