The Worst Drought in Decades

It has been two months since I posted “One Storm Can Change Everything“. That was the last – and only – significant rain event we have seen this year.

Making things worse was the incessant, unrelenting heat, burning up what little water we had. Want to know the best way to tell that farmers have a tough crop this year? Great beach weather! All those hot, dry days in July and August, while great for going to the lake, make for terrible growing conditions.

Make no mistake: I’m in an area that has at least received at least some moisture this year. We have gotten 88 mm (3.5 inches) of rain so far this year. While this is extremely low – less that 40% of our average rainfall to date – many farms further south and west of ours have seen even less (some have seen much less). So I’m not going to complain and say we are worse off than anybody else, as that is simply not the case. We are fortunate to have the crop that we do.

I think it’s important to understand the situation for farmers out there this year. Nothing anybody did caused this drought to happen, and we farmers do the best we can to utilize every drop of rain we can get in years like this. There’s just very little you can do if it doesn’t rain.

We can give our crops the best chance, with the best genetics, the best crop protection products, and get every job done right and on time. But if the rains don’t come; if the weeks slip by without a drop of moisture, with unceasing heat sucking water out of the crop like a sponge; the crop will fail. Sometimes the weather outweighs everything else.

Adding insult to injury is that sometimes droughts aren’t recognized as a problem by the markets. A world awash in wheat and soybeans doesn’t care about some poor crops in Western Canada. Grain buyers don’t care that we need $13 per bushel canola prices to break even. If the market determines the price should be $10.50 per bushel, that’s just the way it is.

A drought like this one hasn’t been seen on the Prairies in quite a long time. Comparisons are being made to 1988 in many areas, one of the worst droughts in recorded history in the Prairies. It is because of the changes in production techniques that we even have a crop at all. No-till (means the ground is rarely, if ever, worked) is a big part of the reason we have the crop that we do, and no-till only works if we have access to the best crop protection products. Genetically modified crops like canola allow for the minimization of tillage by allowing the use of broad-spectrum herbicides like glyphosate or others. We need every tool in the toolkit when conditions become challenging.

In times like this, we don’t ask for your sympathy, nor do we ask for hand-outs. We ask only for your understanding; that maybe it’s okay it rained on the weekend, possibly derailing lake plans. We ask that maybe you give us a little more room to complain about the weather. We ask for a bit of extra patience in dealing with us, with the extra stress that so many farmers are struggling with right now. The Farm Stress Line is very busy right now. Stress is very real in times like this, and don’t be afraid to ask how your farm friends are doing.

Farming is a complicated and stressful business, and droughts like this one certainly add to the burden. Farming is a long-term, generational business, with next year always at the forefront of our minds. I already worry for 2018; with severely depleted soil moisture, we will desperately need a recharge for the next crop year. If we don’t get it, we may remember 2017 as the deep breath before the plunge.

For now though, my main focus is on harvest. As the combines roll along, we are seeing decent yields coming off the fields. The winter wheat and peas are in the bin, and we should be back at harvest in a couple of days. Lentils are next, and canola and durum will soon follow. Given the limited moisture, I am satisfied with the yields we’re seeing.

There is a lot to be positive about. Just because soil moisture is low now doesn’t mean next year will be a drought too. There have been many flash-in-the-pan droughts (see Midwest USA drought in 2012), and there will be many more. Agriculture is an amazing way of life, and the silver lining of a slower year like this one is more time to spend with my wife and son – and the new little one joining our family in January.


It Hasn’t Rained In 42 Days

6 weeks. That’s how much time has passed since the last significant rainfall came to us. That is the longest stretch without rain (at this time of the year) I have seen in my time on the farm. In fact, according to historical data (click here), this has been the driest May in the Weyburn area in nearly two decades – and a whopping 46 years for the Regina area.

It’s dry. No question about it. The wind certainly hasn’t been helping matters either; yesterday, it was gusting up to 60 km/hr, just like it has so many other days this spring. I honestly don’t remember a spring this incessantly windy. It is actually extremely aggravating doing anything outside in wind like we’ve had. Just look at the graph below – it’s from one of our weather stations. That is a lot of windy days! And, that is only from the last month – April was very windy as well.

Screenshot (9)

The wind has been stripping what little moisture we had in our topsoil out, contributing to what amounts to a rather patchy crop. The good news is that we got a nice rain right at the start of seeding, and our soil was right full of water going coming out of winter. That left us with a nice buffer, and there is still a lot of moisture in our soil profile. Things aren’t desperate, not yet.

For the most part this spring, we actually had very nice seeding conditions. The soil was moist, planting conditions were perfect, and it wasn’t too hot. We really couldn’t have asked for better seeding conditions, and the majority of our crop shows it – our earlier seeded crop looks fantastic.

The last third of the crop we planted really needs a rain. Only about half to three-quarters of that later seeded crop has emerged so far, with the rest of it still sitting in the ground, waiting for moisture. The result is a patchy crop that is going to be all over the place for maturity.

The one crop suffering more than anything else is our winter wheat. The extensive soil 20170605_123530moisture reserves the other crops are enjoying are long gone for this fall-seeded crop, and it is hurting. We probably have a week to get a rain on this crop before it truly begins to fail. Crops just can’t survive that long without water. Six weeks of dry, windy weather is a lot to ask of any plant.

It has been a long time since our farm experienced a drought. In the last 10 years, we have been far more worried about excess moisture than being short of it. in 2011, we had 17 inches of rain between April and August; and we were saturated to begin with. This year, we have had a half inch of rain since March. Undoubtedly, that is a better situation to be in; there are a lot of farmers up north that are desperate for the dry weather we have been having. Being too wet brings all sorts of problems that we are all too familiar with.

It is too early to give up on this crop. It has a lot of things going for it, especially the early seeded acres. But we are running out of time for the rain to start. If we haven’t seen significant rainfall by the end of the next two weeks, we will be in trouble. Simply put, we need rain and we need it now. If only Mother Nature cared!


Going From One Extreme To Another

Every year is different. Generally, you can classify years by how their weather patterns. Last year was dry, 2014 was wet, 2013 was cool and wet, 2012 was hot and wet, and so on. This year… this year doesn’t seem to fit any sort of normal pattern. We had one of the driest, warmest winters of the past couple decades, followed by an abnormally warm and dry spring. Seeding started in mid-April, earlier than ever, and we were seeding into progressively drier soil.

Day after day the wind blew dust in our faces and whipped around any unprotected soil. Vehicles and equipment were layered with a dust so fine and so thick you could hardly stand it. Forecasts were calling for a hot and dry summer, and the unceasing wind drove what moisture we had out of the ground. We were on the brink of a drought unlike anything we (in this area, that is) had seen in many, many years.

Six weeks later, I spend each day looking at the sky, hoping for just one more day without rain! What the hell happened?

Somewhere around the middle of May, something changed. A freak rainfall event, one that should never have occurred in our persistent dry pattern, gave us a much needed rainfall, one that got our crop out of the ground. Ever since then, we just keep getting more and more and more rain. Over the last month, we have gotten more rainfall than we got in the entire 2015 growing season.

Is this an improvement? Unquestionably, yes. We were getting close to a pretty dire situation. If the crop didn’t get rain soon, it was going to be in real trouble. Our canola desperately needed moisture to get out of the ground. The crop emerged, the dust settled, and we have the makings of a large crop; unlike anything we’ve seen since 2013, a record year.

So what exactly am I complaining about then? Well, sometimes too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing. One of the problems with such a dry winter and spring, combined with a forecast for a hot and dry summer, is that you tend to strategize for that type of weather. It’s hard to change gears once the year has already started, and pretty much impossible to change your cropping mix once it is already planted.

Wet weather like this is rough on dry-season crops like lentils and peas. While peas are fairly resilient and will likely bounce back from some early-season excess moisture stress, lentils simply cannot. Once they start to become water-logged, they really don’t recover well, even if the weather turns around. And, once they reach what is now a very fragile state, all it takes is a little push to sent them over the brink.

Although it might be hard to see in the photo, that yellow spot up ahead is in very bad shape. As the roots become infected with pathogens, they quickly begin to fail and will not recover. A substantial number of our lentil acres look like this.

One more big rain. That’s all it will take to destroy an enormous amount of our lentils. They are already under tremendous stress, with pathogens attacking their roots and their leaves, and they just can’t take much more. One storm can change everything.

For the past week we have been anxiously watching the skies and the forecasts, awaiting the near-certainty of heavy rains. Forecast maps published by numerous meteorologists painted a grim picture of the weather ahead.

But, despite all the forecasts and all the doom and gloom, the rains didn’t come. Each storm system that was supposed to hammer us with inches of rain didn’t materialize. They moved south, they moved east, and they just kept missing us (on that note, some areas did see that forecast verified – and it is not a good situation for them).

We just might have made it. The 7-day forecast is for nothing but sun and heat, perfect weather to set up a recovery. Don’t get me wrong; the lentils still stand upon the edge of a knife, but if the forecast verifies, they might still turn out alright.

And, in all honesty, these are a lot better problems to have than if the rains never did come. By now, the crop may well have been written off, dried up to nothing and wilting in the fields. Instead, we have a crop of wheat and canola unlike anything we’ve seen in years, one that looks absolutely remarkable. Bad weather for lentils is perfect weather for wheat and canola; and that is why you always keep different crops in the rotation around here. You just never know what kind of weather you’re going to get.

It is rare for canola to be flowering like this in June, but with such an early start, it is well advanced and enjoying all the moisture.

The fact is that extreme weather is what we tend to get. Dad has been farming for the better part of forty years and he has yet to see a year where the perfect amount of rain and sunshine grew a crop limited only by its own genetics. And besides, how boring would that be anyway? It’s the stresses and challenges that make farming truly exhilarating.



Hoping For Rain

We have never had this much seed in the ground this early. As of today, we are down to our last two fields – which we could actually finish by Wednesday, May 11. That would be the FB_IMG_1462723488664earliest finish to seeding our farm has ever seen. For perspective, we could actually finish seeding before it even started in 2013.  At the same time, we have seeded more acres than ever; low spots that have been full of water for eight years are finally dried up. Our fields look better than they have for a very long time.

So what are we worried about? Well, the downside to such an efficient and early seeding season is that you need dry conditions for that to occur – and that is what we are experiencing.

And it is dry. We haven’t seen a rain since the 15th of April, close to a month behind us. At the same time, we have had very warm weather for late April/early May. We had quite a few days over 30 degrees Celsius; some of those with a gusty wind too. A lack of precipitation coupled with warm and windy conditions has caused a great deal of drying on our soils. What started out as near-perfect conditions for planting has since become concerning. Every day gets dustier and dustier. It becomes a little wearying when all day every day you are layered in dust from an unceasing wind, your eyes full of dirt and your clothes constantly dusty.

On the other hand, if there is a time of the year to be dry, it’s seeding. It is a big, complicated operation that takes all the manpower, will and determination we have to complete. It’s not just about getting it done; it’s about getting it done right. As we have seen over the past several years, frequent rains can cause serious problems for the planting season.

Nevertheless, crops need moisture to germinate and get out of the ground. If it’s not there, they will simply sit in the ground and wait for it. So, what you end up with in a spring like this is some parts of the field end up wetter than others (different soil types, elevation, etc), and consequently you get patchy emergence. A crop that comes up patchy will be a myriad of staging come harvest, which makes life difficult for the combines.

Some of these have germinated, but some have not. Parts of the field are too dry to support germination.

The thing is, a patchy crop could be the least of our problems. In the 1980’s, particularly in 1988, the weather got so dry and so hot that crops simply couldn’t cope. Many fields had no crop at all. While I don’t believe we are headed for that scenario this year, it is always in the back of my mind – because it is possible. Long-range forecasts are calling for a near to above average temperature bias and below average precipitation. Add that to an already dry start to the growing season, and you have yourself a drought.

The good news is there is rain in the forecast. A major system is expected to move through here starting tomorrow. As usual when a system like this is forecast, the rain totals change drastically before we actually see the storm hit us. Last week, there were forecasters saying we could get 2-3 inches of rain. Today, it sounds like a half inch is what we will get. It’s always worrying to see rain estimates decrease when the storm is still more than a day away. You have no idea how frustrating it is when weather forecasters estimate a near certainty of rain – and then it doesn’t happen.

Although we all know the weak track record of weather forecasters, we have no choice but to DSC_0671manage our seeding decisions accordingly. With a major storm system forecast, we decreased the depth of our canola seeding outfit to ensure the fragile little canola seeds don’t get buried too deep. If it doesn’t rain, our canola seeded now will not come up. It will not be in contact with moisture. We have to make our best judgment call on decisions like this, even when we know the inherent uncertainty of weather forecasts.

One of the most annoying things at this time of the year is the way most weather people on TV and radio talk about the forecast. “Look at the week ahead! Nothing but 30 degrees plus! Fantastic!” Weather like that is not what we need in an already dry spring. We need rain and moderate temperatures. Weeks and weeks of hot weather is not good for freshly seeded crops. It would be nice to see a little more enthusiasm for rainy weather. Sorry about the tangent.

This is the most expensive time of the year for farmers. We are spending upwards of $100K a day between fertilizer, seed, chemical, fuel, repairs, depreciation and so on. With all of that depending on just a few well-timed rains, you can understand why farmers can be a little stressed out at this time of the year. A rain can truly make or break a farm. One storm can change everything. All we can do is seed our crops and hope for the best.

Our Earliest Seeding Ever

My very first blog post was April 18, 2013, titled Spring – Where Are You? We were in the midst of a never-ending winter, so cold and so snowy it seemed spring would fail to come at all. To add insult to injury, 11 days after that frustrating post, it snowed again. I was genuinely concerned that the crop would not go in the ground. Despite my apprehension, we actually did get the crop in; we simply started three weeks later than normal, on the 11th of May.

This year, you couldn’t imagine a scenario more different. Winter didn’t just end early – it hardly came at all! We haven’t had snow since February, our winter wheat started growing in March, and we actually did some seeding on the 13th of April. How do you predict changes like that?

Of course, this is hardly the first time weather like this has occurred. The winter of 2011-2012 was actually warmer than this past one, and there have been numerous drier ones too. It is undeniable, though, that it is dry. We haven’t seen conditions like this in many years. It’s dry enough to be concerning; even after all the wet years we’ve experienced, drought is still a frightening word.

The reality is that we have received very little precipitation since November. We got a nice rain a little over a week ago that helped recharge us a bit, but with every windy, warm day that goes by, we lose more and more precious moisture. The thing is, despite all our advances in seeding technology, despite no-till farming and water-efficient crops, we still need spring rains to get our crop out of the ground. Once it’s established, it can tap into the stored soil water and go from there. But it has to have a chance to get there.

So, if moisture is a concern, and we have moisture now, why not get the crop in the ground as quickly as possible? Well, we live in the Canadian Prairies, where we experience the worst of every weather extreme (well, most of them anyway). If our crop gets out of the ground too quick in the spring, a mid-May frost (which is very possible) can cause a lot of damage; just ask the farmers that had to reseed over a million acres of canola last year after a May 30 frost. While that may be a rare scenario, it is one you have to consider when deciding how early is too early.

On the other hand, if it is going to be a dry year, getting the crop in as early as possible may be a game-changer for yield. Giving the crop its best chance to use that early moisture and cooler days could be critical for its development.

On the other other hand, if it starts dry but gets wetter later, the later-seeded crops could outperform because the rain happens to arrive at a more optimum stage for development; such as in 2015, when all that reseeded, very late canola yielded very well.

Here’s the reality: we simply don’t know what the year will bring. Everything we do now is based on our best guesses of how the year may pan out. Today, there is moisture in the ground, the soil temperature is over 5 degrees, and the fields are plenty dry enough to run equipment over them. That’s why our farm is seeding, and has been for the past 5 days. Other farms are waiting until we’re closer to May. Which one of us is right? Who knows.

This is why agriculture is such a challenging career. Our farm lives and dies based on the weather. We can’t predict it, so we just try to think critically about every decision we make and act on it. Then we hope for rain and sun – but not too much of each.

Seeding is an incredibly stressful but also exhilarating time of the year, when we lay all of our best plans and strategies in the ground and hope for the best. It may be a sprint to the finish, but it is awfully easy to trip on a crack on the way to the finish line. Details are everything. Tomorrow, we go back at it again, and I’m excited to see what it will bring.



Good Beach Weather Does Not Grow Good Crops

Summer. Time to spend at the lake, your cabin, a campground; pretty much anywhere that involves enjoying the outdoors. What’s the best weather for that? Well, 30 degree days are wonderful out on the lake, and for some people, the hotter the better. All you have to do is turn on your favorite weather station and hear the weatherperson acclaim yet another glorious 33 degree summer day, with more wonderful heat on the way…

As a farmer, that is about as agonizing to listen to as nails on a chalkboard. There are countless ways for us to lose yield every year, whether it’s frost, hail, excess moisture, insects, diseases, or countless other threats. Each one of those events is devastating in its own way; but at least you have some control over the living threats, like diseases and insects. The ones that fall from the sky are by far the worst. The last few years, as you will find on previous posts, have hit us hard with excess moisture and even some frost events. Cool and wet has been the name of the game. The advantage of that type of weather is that if you can avoid the extremes, you can grow some incredible crops.

This year, weather has taken a 180 degree turn. Our crops are suffering under an oppressive, stifling summer sun, with daytime temperatures easily reaching over 30 degrees day after day. Rainfall has been limited, to say the least. This year, we are facing an event we haven’t seen in many, many years; a drought.

My father started farming back in the late 70’s, a time not unlike this one. Farms were doing very well, with fantastic grain prices for quite a few years previous. Land prices were skyrocketing, and much of the Prairies had grown at least a few good crops to cash in on the good times. Then came the 80’s.

The 1980’s was one of the driest decades ever recorded in Western Canada, perhaps even worse than the infamous Dirty 30’s. Of all those years of dry weather, 1988 is the one that stands out as the worst. Dad talks about that year a lot. Crops barely even germinated, and most died soon after emergence. Weeks of extreme heat and wind sucked the life out of the entire crop. Keeping enough feed around for the cattle was terribly difficult, and water had to be pumped and hauled from just about every slough they could find.

While this year is not at all on that level for our area, for some areas west of here those comparisons are starting to be made. That is a disturbing thing to hear. Serious feed shortages are going to arise, and there are some truly sick looking crops out there that are past the point of no return.

Ironically, despite all my frustrations about the past couple of years, it is because of all that excess moisture last year and the years before that we have the crop that we do. Despite only Red Lentilsreceiving three inches, or 75 millimeters, of rain since the beginning of the crop year, we have a crop stand we haven’t had in many, many years. Everything was pointing to an above average crop… but we haven’t had a significant rain now for nearly three weeks. Our subsoil moisture is slowly running out, and as temperatures climb into the low 30’s, our crops are beginning to feel the pinch. Any day above 25 degrees starts removing yield potential from wheat and canola, and as the days turn into weeks, that potential will really start to collapse.

Picture yourself as a wheat plant standing out in the middle of a field. As the sun’s heat bears down on you, what can you do to keep cool? You can’t walk over to a tree to find shade. You can’t jump in a pool of water to cool off. All you can do is stand there and drink as much water as you can to stay hydrated and cool. So, naturally, you drink a lot of water. Right now, with the heat these crops are experiencing, they are using 10 mm of water per day. Even with the substantial soil reserves we have, heat like that will burn it up very quickly.

This data from our John Deere Field Connect Weather Station. you can see each of the different soil depths, and the water level in each down to one meter. It is fascinating to watch throughout the season - but you can see a marked reduction in soil moisture that is simply not being replenished.
This is data from our John Deere Field Connect Weather Station. You can see each of the different soil depths, and the water level in each down to one meter. It is fascinating to watch throughout the season – but you can see a marked reduction in soil moisture that is simply not being replenished.

The situation in our area, despite the recent heat wave, is still pretty good. We have an excellent stand of deeply rooted crops that are adapting to drier, hotter weather. We also tried more drier-season crops this year, due to the forecast for a summer like we’re currently seeing, such as lentils, peas and winter wheat. I really need to point out that we have been very fortunate so far this year. But that won’t last forever. We need a rain, and we need it soon.

While some thunderstorms have popped up here and there and provided relief to a couple of DSC_0083fields, it has been far from good enough. And, the danger of these summer storms is that they rarely only bring rain. We had substantial damage to a canola field last week from a hail storm. With the right weather, it can probably recover fairly well, but the next couple of weeks will be critical for it.

Don’t get me wrong; I love going to the lake, and it is nice to have some hot weather to go along with it. But day after day of 30+ degree temperatures are critically damaging to crops. Not to mention that trying to work outside in weather like that is anything but enjoyable.

For a long time, my parents farmed in some pretty dry weather. It has only been the past 7 years that we have wished against rain. Maybe this is just a return to normal. One thing there is little doubt about though is this: if this heat continues, and rain fails to materialize, a large part of the Canadian Prairies will be in rough shape. There are few threats farmers fear more than drought, and for the first time in 13 years, that may just be what we’re in.

The Legacy of Years of Excess Moisture

For the first time in quite a few years, 2015 is shaping up to be a little on the drier side. We started and finished seeding earlier than most of my father’s career, and precipitation has been mercifully light. Although there is a lot of growing season ahead of us, this may be the drier year we have been waiting for.

Despite the drier bias, the effects of excess moisture still linger. Roads continue to deteriorate, with countless holes and failing sections. Fields are still full of water, with every low spot filled to the brim. Every water body is at capacity, unable to absorb any sudden precipitation event. These are problems that will not just go away, and will haunt us for years. But perhaps the most worrisome situation of all is the frightening, creeping white powder, slowly spreading across our fields, choking out any life it touches… salinity. All of this really began back in 2008.

That year, we started seeding in late April into dry soil. With no rains right through May, we finished seeding very early and seeded through every low spot we could find. As the spring came to an end, rains began to come, with a relatively cool summer to go along with them. The result was a fantastic crop by the time we reached August. It was then that things changed.

We went to the lake one weekend just before the beginning of harvest. We had winter wheat pretty much ready to go, but, seeing as how it wasn’t quite ready to combine, we took one final weekend off before the long grind of harvest began. Our last day at the lake was a beautiful, warm and sunny day, perfect for being out on the water. But as we started toward home, we saw a cloud that made me sweat.

A black, rolling wall was coming right at us, and as we finally reached home, we were hammered by a storm unlike anything we had seen in some time.

The damage? Well, there was thankfully no hail, but we received anywhere from 3.5 to 6.5 inches of moisture in that one storm. Harvest was a nightmare, with a count of over 25 stuck combine occurrences, and a crop that had pretty substantial quality loss.

Ever since that fall, we have been wet, with varying degrees of successes and failures. 2009, 2012 and 2013 were all very successful years, with lots of moisture and cool weather, but not to the point of extreme excesses. Certainly, we lost a lot of crop in those years to flooding as well, but we did quite well despite that. Conversely, 2010, 2011 and 2014 were either disasters or close to, with 2011 as the year we failed to plant much of a crop at all, with only 25% going in the ground, and most of it being lost. Indeed, for several now we have been stuck in a wet weather pattern, with hammering rains that hit like a wall of bricks seemingly every time a cloud shows up.

Finally, it seems that things are changing. We began and finished seeding very early this year, with excellent seeding conditions and lots of subsoil moisture, but very little precipitation, thankfully. While there is a lot of growing season ahead of us, it seems that 2015 is going to be a different year from the previous several.

Let’s be clear, though – there is no doubt that we are in a precarious situation. Any significant Flooding Saskatchewanmoisture event could quickly plunge us right back to a year ago. One storm could change everything. Our roads are becoming increasingly difficult, and expensive, to maintain; as pesky muskrats, emboldened by the acres of water surrounding some roads, dig their way underneath the roads. Numerous sections of roads in the area are in serious danger of becoming impassable with our heavy trucks, which we cannot go without to supply our drills and empty our combines.

But, roads are fixable, sloughs will diminish, and drier weather will return. The cycles of climate will return us to drier weather, just as they did after the 1950’s and the 1970’s, along with countless other wet cycles over the millennia. What drier weather may not fix is salinity.

The white ring around this slough is referred to as a
The white ring around this slough is referred to as a “bathtub ring”. Nothing will grow in that for decades.

Soil salinity is excess salts in the soil, generally made up of combinations of sodium and sulphates or chlorides. Plants can’t access the nutrients they need for life, as the sodium elements in the soil offset the nutrients they need. Trouble begins for plants long before the ground turns white; but once that happens, any life is strangled out. That level of salinity doesn’t just go away, either. It will linger on for my lifetime, and my children’s, and maybe even beyond that. At this time, there is no easy fix for this problem.

My father has watched salinity encroach on his land, and his neighbors’ land, off and on throughout his career. The move away from summerfallow and cultivation to continuous cropping and no-till helped enormously, stopping the growth of that creeping white death in its tracks; but it was also drier at that time, from the late 70’s through the early 90’s. Growing crops keeps water from collecting on the land. As water builds and then slowly evaporates away, it often leaves behind a salty residue. Salts also come from the parent material, pushed up by excessive groundwater. But lately, even the good land has developed salinity, which has rarely been seen before .

Lately, there has just been so much water that we can’t grow enough plant biomass to soak up the salts. As the salts build up, crops struggle even more, and it becomes a bit of a cycle. It is a common problem in irrigation areas, which just goes to show how much water we have gotten in the past few years!

Is the problem with us, the farmers? Are we working our land too hard? My estimation is that no, that is not the case, as I have seen salinity grow even in the native prairie community pasture just north of my home, choking out the mixed grasslands. This is a problem with the soil itself, with the weather patterns we are experiencing.

What can we do about it? I’m really not sure. This isn’t one of those issues with a simple answer, something that the government can come in and regulate away, or even something that we farmers are necessarily even mismanaging. What we need, I believe, is a change to drier weather. And for the next wet weather cycle that rolls through in ten, twenty or thirty years from now, we need a plan. And drainage may just have to be a part of that plan. Soil amendments may be an answer as well; applications of gypsum have helped in some scenarios. We are currently experimenting with that.

If we are moving towards a drier weather pattern, that will help remediate many of the issues we are currently facing. I want to be clear, too, that we are far from being the worst-affected area from this weather. Many farmers have lost much, with water even threatening their yards. I consider us lucky to have avoided that scenario. It could be much, much worse. Nevertheless, excess moisture has become a serious problem, and it is about time it starts to fade away.