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The good thing about drought

An old timer who had survived the drought in the 1930’s once told me jokingly that the good thing about a drought is that it always ends with a good rain. While that is surely the case by the definition of drought, it is not much consolation when viewed by those experiencing it. What is really needed is some assurance that rains are eminent. That is not the case today.

In the two previous worst droughts in my experience in 1974 and 1977, the heat and dry weather ended around August 1. In those years the extreme drought was followed by cool temperatures and a lot of rain in August. In both of those years the pain did not end at that point. We then faced the decision of whether the crop was good enough to warrant a trip through the field with a combine. If it was, decisions needed to be made whether to store or sell from the field. In any event the decision making is much less fun than handling a bumper crop.

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I was on the board of the local coop during that time. It was a tough position because not only was our revenue lower from marketing grain, we sometimes had to make a judgment call on whether to extend more credit for inputs to farmers who were struggling financially. The net result was that the experience made farmers in our area very conservative. Consequently they did not suffer from the farm crisis of the 1980’s nearly to the extent of farmers in areas which had prospered in the previous decade.

That is not much consolation today. It is difficult to see what could possibly be the upside of this drought. Experience in 1974 led farmers in my area going to a 50:50 rotation of soybeans and corn from what had been about an 20:80 rotation prior to that. Growing conditions in 1977 started us thinking seriously about no-till which a few years later became almost universally implemented as the tillage practice of choice. Those cultural practices resulted in better crops in subsequent dry years. They also resulted in improved yields in years of average temperature and rainfall.

It is important to stay positive in working through the current situation. It is tough to do when a year’s income is at stake. Crop insurance and options tools are available to help with the financial problems triggered by the reduced yields even if the agronomic loss is a disaster. We will get through this problem. The crop will get planted in 2013.

When I began farming in 1968 my goal was to make enough money to farm one more year. That has always been my goal. It still is. The rains will come. I will still be farming when they do!

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