After a less-than-snowy winter, after a long warmer-than-usual spring, after a long scorching hot and dry summer, we are now in autumn. The harvest season.
Too bad there’s not much to harvest.
The drought across the prairies – from Manitoba to Alberta – has brought back memories of the Dirty Thirties. A time of no snow, no rain, no crop, no income. A time of dust storms that obliterated visibility and buried shelterbelts and fence lines. A time when farmers abandoned their farms and moved elsewhere. Anywhere.
This year’s crops are stunted due to lack of rain and bleached or burned due to the intense heat. The heads are only partly filled, the kernels in them shrunken. It’s not a pretty sight.
Harvest started two to three weeks earlier than usual. Those crops that are worth combining are so short that the combine table barely clears the ground. Other crops aren’t even worth the cost; farmers have turned their cattle in to graze what little grew. They will be depending on crop insurance to see them through to spring. No farmer likes that, if only because it means next year’s premiums will rise.
Ranchers are in no better situation. Cattle have eaten pastures down to the dirt. Hay crops are abysmal. A cousin got just over 300 round bales off his hay field this year. Last year, he got over 1000. They’re selling off their cattle because there’s little hay to bale or to buy, and what is available is horrifically expensive. Ranchers, like farmers, are depending on government relief payments. They don’t like that any better than farmers like crop insurance.
I joked with my brother a few weeks ago that the rains would come as soon as the combines rolled into the fields. And they did. Last week, the rains came. Good steady showers and rains. The kind that should have come in May. Or June. Or July. They’re too late to help this year’s crops and pastures. They might help restore ground moisture for next year.
If more rain comes. And winter snow.
In 1986, my father had a bumper crop. He combined one field, 40 acres of Canada No. 1 Hard wheat in the bin. And then it started to rain.
It rained all September. Not just showers, but downpours. Constant. Steady. Occasionally, it stopped raining for a couple of days, just long enough for Dad to think, “If this keeps up a bit longer, I can get the rest of the crop off.”
He’d wake up the next morning to pouring rain.
The crops deteriorated. They were so wet, kernels sprouted in the heads.
At the end of September, the clouds rolled away, the sun came out, the breezes blew, and the crops dried out. Too late. The damage was done. The crop was ruined. What had been a bumper crop of Canada No. 1 Hard was now barely feed quality.
All this makes you wonder why farmers keep on farming. Why they persist in spite of fickle prairie weather.
I think it’s because there’s nothing else they’d rather do.
#PrairieWeather #Drought #PalliserTriangle #HarvestTime #ClimateChange #FarmingChallenges #TooMuchRain #HannaHistory #MargaretGHanna
2 thoughts on “Fickle Prairie Weather”
Isn’t that so true about all of it, the rain and the life style and what the weather has been like. Our hay field normally gives us 110 to 160 bales. We got 24. Glad my life style isn’t tied to being a good steward to the land I am lucky to call home. Our rancher has now fenced a bit of the hay crop and has moved his cattle onto it for a short period of time. My brother needs to sell cattle to retire because of his health but this is NOT the year to do it as prices will be so BAD.
You’re so right! Yet, year after year, most farmers and ranchers hang on which is why we call this Next Year Country.