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between our steps 06 12 19 doubleOn Sunday, farmers missed events they would normally have attended. Many were "racing the rain." Sunday was the third sunny day in a row, but rain was on the way. There was a small window to get some seed in the ground, so apologies were given and work was done under pressure.

Sunday was the third day of sun, but there had been so much rain that the first day, the fields were too wet to work. There were visible puddles on the land. The second day, I saw places where farmers had cultivated much of a field but then had to leave the rest. Deep ruts showed where the land was still too wet to work.

By Sunday, folks got out on the land that was dry enough and put corn, grain, beans, canola into the ground. Seeding is a job that can be done in the dark, so tractor lights were turned on, and people kept going. Long hours increase the risk of mistakes and break downs and injuries, but in a year like this, people took the risk.

Still, there is land that has not been worked. One day is not enough to get everything in. Tuesday's bright sun began to dry things out again. Sun on Wednesday had people itching to try again. Rain was due the next day. Again.

This is not the first year like this. Two years ago, because of rain, seeding went on well into haying, and getting hay dry was almost impossible. Someone told me that they got their corn planted in mid July that year. Because they were taking it as silage and because the fall was quite dry, they got a good crop. Given the poor quality of the hay, that feed was valuable.

Grain corn could not be planted that late. We've a short growing season as it is in this area, and plants take time to mature and set seed. Right now, farmers are counting the days and calculating as it gets later and later. And worrying about parts of fields that just won't dry out.

Two years ago, as I listened to the worries, I realized that people had seed already purchased and waiting in their sheds. Some could be kept for another year, but keeping the rodents out of it is a challenge, and older seed might not all sprout. A lot of crop land is rented, and the land owner would still expect to be paid. We had never written in a clause that said that the rent would only be paid if the land got planted, and the crop harvested. Some people might wave the rent. Others depend on it.

I mention harvest, though it is months away, because this constant rain started last fall. Once the drought broke, the rain did not stop. Moisture arrived in time to fill out the corn and the beans, but there were so few dry days that crop did not get harvested. Snow came early too, and one snow fall can be enough to ruin beans. Beans got plowed under, meaning all that investment was lost. 

When we had dry days last fall, farmers combined. Breaking up the land for this year waited. Getting crop off was the higher priority. For those who use a no-till seed drill, that was not a problem. But for those who use more traditional methods, come sprint, they still had to plow or disc the fields, and cultivate and pick rock before they could seed. And before they could do any of that, the land had to be dry. Which brings us back to how few dry days this spring has provided.

Weather is always a challenge, but the last three years have been really difficult. Stress is accumulating. If you are a farmer, know you are not alone. Acknowledge how the stress is affecting you. Get help. Depression is a natural consequence of the stress you are under. Nothing to be ashamed of. If you know a farmer, ask them how they are doing. And stop and listen when they open up.

And all of us need to think about global warming, talk with others about what mitigation and adaption look like in our context. We need to join the climate change conversation.

Cathy Hird farmed near Walters Falls.


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