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Drought

It is one of the most, if not the most scary, stressful things a farmer faces, and no farmer has any control over the situation.  It isn’t a hurricane, or a dereceho both of which may leave the farm without electricity for days.  It isn’t even four feet of snow in winter.  Low commodity prices may be tough, as well as high fertilizer prices, all beyond a farmer’s control.  Surprisingly enough in the east it isn’t even wildfires or earthquakes.

 This scary, stressful event is long in duration, it is no momentary event and the consequences affect both the farmer and you.  Granted the affect hits me (the farmer) first and you later.  This event is currently responsible for record soybean, wheat and corn prices.  Prices for these products are historic and may be up as much as 100 percent from last year alone.  In some cases this event may last for years, not days, not weeks, but years. The event which I hope you have been following is record drought.

 Drought is a terrify word to a farmer, because the whole farm is affected in numerous ways.  Already reports are surfacing of cattle herds being sold off because of lack of feed.  Ethanol plants are closing because of historic corn prices.  At $8.00+ per bushel it isn’t possible for an ethanol plant to make a profit.  Eight dollar corn means higher prices for God knows how many products in the grocery store.

 Drought doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t go away overnight either.  Currently 36 states are suffering from drought to some degree.  In theMidwestthe corn crop is toast.

 Here on the farm the drought is hitting us in the gut rather hard.  First the wells are going dry every day, which causes tremendous stress on all living things on the farm.  And I do mean all living things, humans, farm animals, grass, trees, invertebrates and even the bacteria.  Without the soil microbes, well it is disastrous.  Animal performance is off and it is noticeable, and before long it will be scary.

The only way that I can relate the stress is to imagine 3 teenagers and two parents in a home where you are limited to a three minute shower once every two hours.  How is everyone going to shower and get to school or work on time?  I suppose that showers at 6 p.m. 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. followed by 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. will work for some families.

 Water conservation is always a priority, but not everyone in the neighborhood understands conservation.  Watering fescue (a type of grass) in 100 degree heat doesn’t promote fescue growth, it keeps it green, but temperature not moisture in the growth controlling factor.  A new well is also an option.  A new well in a draught might be a $10,000.00 solution.  Not watering animals in 100 degree heat isn’t even a fleeting thought.  Without water loss of life follows quickly.

 The amount of water used on a small livestock farm might surprise you.  I would estimate that we use 600 gallons minimum per watering.  And in this heat it is often necessary to water twice daily.  Stress is praying that all animals can be watered today.  That stress is just meeting the minimum requirements.

 It might be hard to visualize 600 gallons, it is a lot of water, and more than you could haul in a pick-up truck in one trip.  This is daily usage, that must be met seven days per week, every day of the year..  Our options are water or animal liquidation.  Animal liquidation for us would mean zero products at farmer’s markets, which isn’t very appealing.  

 Rising grain prices and lack of water is like being in a vise and the screw is still being tightened.  But what choice do I have, talk about the lesser of two evils.

 On the non-farm end the first affect you might see will be increases in milk, egg, chicken and pork. You might ask why a draught affects these prices first.  Feed prices have increased approximately 25% for me in the last thirty days, chicken need to be fed daily, meaning cost on this end increase.  It is going to get worst, because a thunderstorm or an inch of rain doesn’t bring an end to draught. 

 In the short term the best relief is a summer tropical depression or hurricane.  Can you imagine anyone wishing for a hurricane?  At this point six inches of rain and no electricity for a week appears to be a blessing.