Weather and farming go back nearly as far as Adam and Eve. The two are so intertwined that whenever the discussion turns toward planting as spring approaches, somewhere in the conversation, weather will come up, and it usually doesn't take very long.
Tim Aldridge brought it up during a chat standing around pickup trucks recently. The forecast he heard was doom and gloom - a rainy spring for sure.
That wasn't what I had just read, I noted. What I saw, put together by our own Arlan Suderman, market analyst with Farm Futures, a Farm Progress publication, talked about a dry April.
True, Arlan isn't a weatherman. He was quoting someone else who purports to be a weatherman. And that person was basing his guesses on what the LaNina cycle was doing, or what it might do.
The upshot of all this is that the old timers who look at woolly worms and corn shucks for signs of winter might not be that far off. Despite all our technology at predicting weather, and it has gotten much better, there are still times when it's hard to say what might lie ahead.
I worked with Jim Newman, a Purdue University ag climatologist, for nearly 25 years. Jim, now in his late 80's, is still alive and kicking, living in West Lafayette. But after retiring three times, he finally called it quits for good. One thing I learned from all those years, though, was that in spring and fall, trying to predict he weather is darn difficult, to say the least.
I recall a day in late April many years ago when I drove up to Interview Jim at his office in the Poultry Building on the Purdue campus. He hadn't yet hung it up the first time from being a Purdue professor, but he was getting close. We were going to have lunch at a restaurant manned by Purdue students across the street, then come back for an interview about La Nina, El Nino and the like. Those were still foreign words that sounded like pure Spanish at the time.
The weatherman on the car radio on my trip to Lafayette kept talking about a few clouds, but no chance of rain. It was supposed to be a balmy, spring afternoon. Farmers where it was dry enough might get in the field. I noticed as I pulled onto campus that the clouds were fairly thick, but hey, the weather came on again and the weatherman still said 'no chance of rain.'
I greeted Brother Newman, as John Otte and I called him- John used to love to talk to him as well. John is an ag economist for Indiana Prairie Farmer and Farm Futures. Jim and I chatted for a couple minutes, then he noted we should get moving to make our reservation for lunch.
As we headed toward the door, he stopped, reached behind the door and pulled out an umbrella.
"What in the world do you need that for?" I asked. "I've heard the weather all morning, and they're not saying anything about rain, just a few clouds."
Newman just smiled, not saying a word, but bringing the umbrella along all the same.
We had a good lunch and nice chat. Then we headed out the door to go back to his office. Sure enough, it was beginning to rain. Up went his umbrella. I swear to this day there was a wry smile on his face. Before we got to the office, we would have been quite wet, if not for the umbrella.
As he parked it to dry inside the building, I asked, "How did you know it was going to rain?"
He smiled and pointed to the map on the wall in the hallway. "I still know how to read short-term weather maps," he smirked
Well, Tim, you may be right- it may be a wet spring. Or I may be right- it may be a dry April. I'd say odds are about 50-50 for each one. I learned a lesson from a sly old weather climatologist- believe what they do, not necessarily what they say!