Yes, it is one of the driest years on record for many of us. Yes, it has thus far been one of the hottest summers any of us can recall. There is no grass. Hay is high priced and almost completely unavailable. But hey, I still have my health.
And besides, even in the drought of the Dirty Thirties, my grandparents held barn dances, farm couples got married, had children and life went on. They had fun and found humor in their disaster.
Years ago, I interviewed John Leader, an upbeat, lively veteran farmer well into his 90s from my hometown. John had lived through at least five distinct droughts in his lifetime. In the 1930s, he loved watching chickens eat an overabundance of grasshoppers until they would almost burst. “I never thought I’d see a chicken turn away a grasshopper for lunch, until then,” John said.
During the droughts of the 1950s, John worked in the construction of Gavins Point Dam on the Missouri River, because there were no crops to tend. He trapped for fur pelts in the winter and hunted in the fall to keep his family fed. Through these struggles, he and his wife, Pauline, took a positive approach to their challenges.
John laughed about cracks in the earth so wide that a farmer who dropped his pliers would have to wait to hear it hit the bottom. That was John, always looking for humor.
Here is my own meager attempt to look at the bright side of a season that has put most of us in a very bad mood.
1) I’m saving fuel. No need to windrow alfalfa or hay. There isn’t any. I haven’t even had to mow the farm yard, road ditches or lawn for weeks.
2) Extra time. With the flowers, yard, lawn and crops all dried up, I have extra time to work down my “honey do” list. Yeah!
3) Drought tolerant corn will really shine. If you are a dryland farmer, check out the dryland plots and see which varieties shine. If they do well this summer, they are keepers.
4) Easier to see weeds. Most years at this time, I hand rogue a few escaped plumeless thistles and other weeds, but the grass is so tall that I can’t see the weeds. This year, the weeds are the only green plants in my pastures.
5) Irrigation scheduling is easy. Without checking data, your best guess is that the crop needs water.
6) More storage room. There is no hay to store in my machine shed, so I have lots of extra room to play handball. Too bad I don’t know how to play handball.
7) Dryland farmers earn their name. In most recent years, dryland ground has not really been dry land, because we’ve received more than adequate rainfall. This year, we earn our title.
8) Meteorologists have been correct. Farmers always complain that meteorologists can be wrong most of the time and still keep their jobs. This year, every time they’ve predicted hot and dry weather, they have hit it.
9) My kids actually want to do chores with the word “wash” in them. In this heat, they want to wash the car, wash the tractor, wash the truck, wash the dog, and even the cats. Warning – cats resist this!
10) We are appreciating the good years that much more. Enough said.
Let us know if you see any clouds with silver lining (or any clouds at all for that matter) during these dry times. And be sure to watch www.nebraskafarmer.com and our August print issue of Nebraska Farmer for more news, information and tips on meeting the challenges of drought. Check out the Farm Progress drought site at www.DatelineDrought.com.