June 10, 2023

Rural Issues: Sunshine after rain

Much needed rain fell on our farm a couple of weeks ago, bringing us out of the “extreme drought” category and back to “severe drought.”

The earth was thirsty, and the hay crop we are cutting this week will be half of what it was last year.

Last year produced less tonnage than the previous year. Part of that is due to drought and part due to a late freeze that “nipped” the grass.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, most of us are facing a shortage of hay. U.S. on-farm hay stocks are at historically low levels.

On May 1, the supply was 14.523 million tons, a decrease of 2.2 million on the year because of increased demand and lower production. That is the second smallest U.S. supply since the USDA started keeping track of hay stocks in 1950.

Wow, that is not the kind of record we want to break. I have talked to many cattle men and women who are selling a few head of cows and others who are full on liquidating their herds.

It is especially sad when I see the young guys calling it quits. Once they are out of the cattle business, it’s unlikely they will return.

Jack Harrison, the owner of the Callaway Livestock Center in Kingdom City, Missouri, told Brownfield Ag News head numbers are up at his sale barn.

“About every week, our cow numbers have been double what they’ve been one year ago,” he says. “Feeder numbers are about 20% higher than they were one year ago, and people are selling fall calves early, saving all of the feed they can for cows.”

Because of the drier spring, we did get our garden planted earlier. The rain a couple of weeks ago brought the peas, beans, beets, onions, radishes and other crops back to life.

You can water your crop with mineral-rich well water and keep it going, but it takes rainwater straight from the sky to truly give it the drink it needs and get those tiny seeds in dry soil to awaken and grow.

We can do all the right things. We can get fertilizer early, select the right seed for the soil and location, and manage the hay stocks we have on hand.

However, none of that matters if we do not receive the necessary rainfall. None of that matters if we get an overabundance of rainfall and are unable to harvest the crops at the right time in its maturity.

We can plan and do our best to manage risk, but ultimately it is out of our hands. Many farmers experience a range of emotions during a challenging growing season.

In this case, we must use the plural seasons for those in some parts of the Midwest, as drought persists over the years.

Some people get angry and frustrated. Others experience great sadness and feel guilty for failing.

Those are normal emotions, but if the weight becomes too much to bear alone, please reach out and talk to someone.

The 988 Crisis Lifeline is free. Make the call.

Cyndi Young-Puyear

Cyndi Young-Puyear

Cyndi Young-Puyear is farm director and operations manager for Brownfield Network.