It has been a summer of storms… and summer has barely started.
I write this as yet another storms deluges us with rain, a raging downpour that changes our already saturated soil into a series of little lakes. Storms have become a daily occurance for us for the last few days. While we usually welcome rains like we have been getting, for we are frequently dry at this time of the year, this has become too much of a good thing. Water is pooling on our fields, choking the life out of the fledgling crops that desperately need sunshine and warm weather.
Some crops are better than others in dealing with excess moisture. Soybeans are quite tolerant, followed by cereal crops like oats, wheat and barley. Our two other main crops, canola and peas, do not tolerate this amount of moisture well, especially not when they are small. The plants aren’t directly injured by the water itself, rather it is the lack of oxygen that kills them. Like you and me, plants need oxygen for survival, using it for cell division, growth, and the transport and uptake of nutrients. Water slows the movement of oxygen in the soil, rapidly creating deprivation in plants. In short, plants are drowning, just like you or I would if we fell into deep water and could not swim.
It seems that we have entered into a climate in which we receive weather extremes. While “normal” weather is nothing more than a fantasy, my parents’ generation of farmers did not experience extreme wet cycles we do today. Indeed, drought was their biggest concern, which we have not experienced in earnest in a decade. It seems that we no longer get 2 or 5 tenths of rain at a time. We instead get 1-3 inches at a time.
In a general sense, too much rain is better than not enough, as crops can usually handle excess moisture better than a lack thereof. But try telling that to the people living in and around Calgary, Alberta where there has been devastation from this weather. We experienced that in 2011, but without a population base exceeding 1.5 million, it didn’t quite make the news the same way. Not that that is right or wrong; it’s just the way it is.
The frustration I feel from weather like this is due to multiple factors, but what really gets me about it is that we try to do everything right throughout the growing season. We try to use the best seed, use seed treatments, seed at the right depth, use the right herbicides and fungicides at the right time, and so on and on. And yet, despite doing (almost) everything right, weather like this can ruin it all, from no fault of your own. This is why farming is such a difficult business, and why you see so many frustrated farmers throughout the growing season. It is a tough business to make a living at, despite what you may hear of high grain prices. These don’t do a thing for you if you can’t grow a crop to sell. So don’t be too hard on your farming neighbors for complaining; everybody needs to vent sometimes, and farmers often have a lot to vent about.
Hopefully the weather improves and the ugly yellow colour our crops are turning to will reverse. It is not too late for that. We still have potential for a great crop here, but Mother Nature needs to back off.