Friday, May 24, 2019

climate change

Climate change is happening.  Farmers who work with higher elevations may be able to deny it.  Those of us on more variable and wetter soils cannot.  I have been aware of it in our farming for twenty years.

The water cycle is impaired.  This is the most obvious.  Excessive rainfall spreads into a huge number of rainy days and it becomes a challenge to walk from house to barn.  Twenty years ago, I "solved" this farm's problems with ground water and excessive wetness by going to grazing on the lowest acres thus firming things up with large and complex perennial root systems.  This idea held for perhaps a decade.  It no longer works.

Today, two days ahead of Memorial Day, I took the herd off the pastures because they were destroying the sod.  I guess we will feed them with the hay crop we couldn't get made last year.  If we can't find hay or alternative grazing, we will have cattle for sale.  This time of year, nearly the first of June, should see the herd unable to keep up with the feed.  Instead we have little grass growth on waterlogged soils because of low temperatures.

The thing is, we know how to begin to solve this.  It is a climate problem because it is a carbon problem.  We have carbon in the wrong place-the atmosphere instead of the soil.  And yes, cars are responsible for this and so is industrial production.  But so is industrial agriculture.  We have spent millenia burning off carbon-organic matter which is 58% carbon-into the air.  The solution has everything to do with learning how to use perennial plants. 

It took us thousands of years to make this mess. We need to be starting in a better direction whether we think we have time or not.  We dare not wait for government!

Sunday, May 19, 2019


Stress levels are zooming here on the farm.  It is not just Trump's fumbling approach to fixing trade deals with China and others that badly need fixing, an approach that loads the sacrifice all on farming and rural America.  It is also the big unadmitted elephant in the room: climate change.

People say that too much rain is preferable to drought.  For at least some of the farms and farmers, that is wrong.  We have had three or four years of not only excessive rain, but an excessive number of rainy days and it leads me to consider my own history here.  In our forty two years now of farming this place we had a significant loss to drought one time-1988.  We have had perhaps twenty years of reduced yields and lost crops to excessive moisture in that time.  Each of these losses is smaller, but cumulatively they add up to much more than the single drought loss.

We are at the 19th of May at this writing.  This is the closing opportunity for planting corn.  We have no corn planted.  Small grains are a waste of time now.  Better to try for a short term one cut annual hay crop and then seed a winter grain for next year.  Soybeans are difficult on our farm.  We are running out of hay due to the lousy hay crops last year.  So the cattle are on the pastures-timely by the calendar, way too early by field conditions.  The grass doesn't grow because it is too cold, the excess rain pools in the hoof prints of the cows, tonight it will freeze while the new calves lie on the wet ground.

Not only have we not planted corn, we have not been able to haul manure out.  The manure is necessary for the corn crop.  Our hog facilities are full to the rafters, so to speak.  If we get enough drying weather to clean them and apply the manure, it will be at the expense of the corn we should be planting.  The manure is beginning to be a health issue. 

And to add insult to injury, the USDA is absolutely clueless about what is going on.  Rather than trying to point farming in a useful direction, to get practices on the land that help sequester carbon and thus somewhat modify the out of control water cycle with its excess precipitation, the agency seems to exist mostly to pass out aid to farmers unnecessarily hurt by the incompetence of government, both at the agency and in the White House and Capitol.

Monday, May 6, 2019


The hardest part of a farming business to learn is the ability to wait.  It is most necessary because the farming is not entirely in the control of the farmer and the farmer must deal with that or go crazy with worry, or possibly do something really stupid that ramifies throughout the crop year and for seasons to come.  Soils, especially those that are heavily clay, can be damaged severely by getting on them too early with tractors.  It is a close timing thing.  What is a good idea tomorrow will damage the land today.
The best that can be said about this is that it encourages humility, something in very short supply in the economy as a whole, not just farming.