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Tuesday, May 21, 2013
What lessons will we take from the great drought of 2012?Posted Thursday, September 27, 2012, at 11:12 AM
In the next 10 or 20 years, I hope to have a grandchild or two to balance on my knee.
And when I do, I plan on starting every other sentence with, "In the drought of 2012 ..."
I can picture myself and Hubby, weathered, wrinkled and, of course, very wise, sharing all the useful knowledge we've learned through this year.
We will describe the rain that never came, the wind that never stopped and the 100 degree-days that repeated themselves over and over.
We can tell about the beans that didn't grow and the corn which shriveled every day.
I hope it will serve as a warning to not get too complacent, too fat and too happy. And I hope my future grandchildren will glean other worthwhile lessons from our experience.
One, which I believe has been passed down through generations of farmers, is "Prepare for the worst, hope for the best."
As farmers in 2012, we did just that. After all, we can only control how we plant, what we plant, and how we take care of our natural resources. We watched the sky each day, hoping and praying, all the while knowing there was little we could do but our best each day.
We heard about other droughts, 1980, 1988, 1953 and the dust bowl years of the 1930s. By most accounts, 2012 exceeded those years in terms of low rainfalls and high temperatures.
Of course, in many of those past years, there were little or no crops to gather in the fall.
So maybe, the most interesting story about this year is how much worse it could and should have been.
In unofficial calculations, most of our county received six inches or less rainfall during the corn growing season of April through August. And with only one snow all winter and little rain, ground moisture was already short heading into spring.
According to Kansas City records, normal rainfall between April and August averages a little more than 19 inches. In other words, we experienced less than 30 percent of the expected rainfall. Much of the country experienced similar weather.
So common sense tells us we should have had similar crop yields.
But now as corn harvest wraps up, farmers are reporting average yields within 50 to 60 percent of normal. Yields varied widely in our county -- even in the same field -- due to spotty rain, varying soil types and corn seed varieties.
Although many soybeans are still maturing, Hurricane Issac and its 4 to 7 inches of rainfall at the end of August, may have saved that crop. The fact that soybeans held on through such a brutal summer may become part of my tall tale to my grandchildren.
Everyday I looked out at the soybean fields and wondered how they could stay alive with so little moisture. But every day they hung on and waited and waited and waited. And now many experts are predicting average soybean yields.
So what is the difference this year? What will we tell our grandchildren and future generations?
What lesson will we learn? And why, despite the beginning of my story, did the ending turn out better than anticipated?
The biggest difference comes down to modern farming -- improved seed varieties, tillage methods and fertilizers.
Without seed varieties genetically modified to endure drought, insects and other adverse conditions, this year's weather would have meant a much more devastating result.
In previous droughts what little crops were left in the field were gobbled up by bugs, fungus and weeds.
In the years when farmers relied on extreme tillage, what moisture could have been preserved was instead plowed away, along with precious topsoil. This year, the wide-spread use of no-till preserved what moisture was in the ground.
We've been growing GMO crops for almost 20 years, but this year, they really showed their worth. Often maligned in the main-stream media, the truth is we would be facing a huge crisis this year without modern farming techniques.
In our world of economic uncertainty and a world population growing to 9 billion people, we need to be realistic.
I hope that is the lesson I impart to future generations. Of course, it won't be new wisdom. In fact, I'll be reminded of something Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote in the 1920s.
"Love and service, with a belief in the future and expectation of better things in the tomorrow of the world is a good working philosophy; much better than, 'in olden times-things were so much better when I was young.' For there is no turning back nor standing still; we must go forward, into the future, generation after generation toward the accomplishment of the ends that have been set for the human race."
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