By Ken Root
In Iowa, this spring, it won’t stop raining. This is the wettest season in 141 years of record keeping. I know that some readers in the arid Plains, where only a quarter inch fell during the biblical flood, don’t like to hear of the woes of too much water but that’s what is happening and we have the blues. Clouds bring rain and gloom, so it becomes a challenge to fight off negative emotions when there is no sunshine.
I don’t consider myself a sad person but I do like a jolt of sunshine each morning to get me motivated. I just need a few minutes of bright orange light to lift my spirits and get my “to do” list moved to the front of my brain. The opposite happens when there are leaden clouds hanging down and the sky drips, or pours, for most of the day.
Of course, too many days of sun push the heat up and burn the crops down. In a prolonged hot spell there can be great joy to waking up to the sound of rain on the roof or feeling an afternoon thunderstorm blow in cold air where none has been in weeks. I most appreciated it on the back of a hay truck after running for a full cutting without any let up in heat. Suddenly, a big cloud would bloom to the west and we could sense that it was coming our way. We picked up the pace of stacking bales and felt the cold downdrafts that made goose bumps on wet skin. Finishing the load and heading for the barn, with raindrops the size of your thumb pelting down, was just short of heaven for hot and tired hay hands.
Hay season up here is just the opposite this year as very few farmers have strung together enough dry days to put any quality alfalfa in the barn and most can be seen raking repeatedly to get it off wet ground and into dry enough condition for baling. The daily temperatures are staying far below normal so the grass and hay are green but the corn is turning yellow. Iowa may have 10 percent unplanted and 10 percent drowned out so the upland acres will have to pick up the slack to make a normal sized crop.
All this is surreal after last year when it was hot and dry from June to December. It was feared that the drought would have a long tail but rains certainly bobbed off that idea. Even though we could be desperately dry as all the soil moisture was used by the 2012 crop, there is fear that this will be “a year without summer” where growing degree days just don’t add up enough to mature a crop without drying costs or, worse, damage from frost. There is also another scenario that the late corn will pollinate right in the heat of summer (if it comes) and ears will only partially fill. The bad part is that farmers are thinking these depressing thoughts under dark skies and daily highs in the 60s.
So, it’s time to take a breath and think of good things that come from God’s creation. We are not going to have two drought years back to back in the Midwest. Those who live on the eastern and western edges of the Corn Belt are having very good years. Summer is just arriving and, although the sweet corn will be late, the crops should grow robustly in the long days ahead. Mud is better than dust.
The other advantage of fields too wet to work and lawns too damp to mow…you can sleep with less guilt than when work needs to be done. I remember the rainy days at a neighbor’s farm when I was in high school. We milked cows so I would show up early for that. He just couldn’t bear to have nothing to do so I’d hang around to do busy work and about mid-morning he would disappear. An hour later, he’d be back with a little sleep in his eyes and we’d work until lunch. Then in the afternoon, he’d be gone again and would show up for milking, showered and clean shaven. He wouldn’t say much but you could tell that he was at peace, as much as a dairy farmer could be.
In the age of automation and big equipment, there is a summertime urge to go to the lake or river or take part in a wide range of summer entertainment. Mother Nature gives no consideration to Saturday or Sunday. Rivers are up and spirits are down as soggy Saturdays are not much fun.
I’m still an optimist! It will only take a changing weather pattern to blow out the clouds and bring in dry air from the west and not moist breezes from the south. We’ll find that golden ball in the sky and the temperatures and humidity will soar. We will enjoy it for a short while and then settle into the summer routine. It won’t be long until someone says: “We need some rain!”
Editor’s note: Ken Root has been an agricultural reporter for 37 years. Root now does daily radio and television programming and is a columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.