August 2019: Farm Byline
The month of August
by Al Gustin
In his book, “Nature’s Program,” Gaylord Johnson says August “has a look, a feel, even a sound, that is all its own.” In August, Johnson says, bird songs are no longer heard to any great extent. Instead, the air is full of “insect music” from field crickets, long-horned grasshoppers and cicadas. Prairie wildflowers are predominantly yellow – goldenrod, wild sunflower and gumweed. And, he says, “Hay and grain fields have turned from green to yellow or tawny. Many are already harvested.”
It seems that in my youth, August was a hot, dry month. Crops had ripened. It was the month of harvest. But in early August last year, someone commented how green the countryside looked. I replied that the abundance of fall crops was one reason for that.
While wheat, barley and oats would be ripe by early August, corn, soybeans and sunflowers are still green. And in recent years, there have been more fields of corn and soybeans than wheat and barley. In fact, in 2018, North Dakota farmers planted as many acres to soybeans as they did to spring wheat, and they planted six times as many acres to corn as they did to barley. Gone are the days of wheat, barley and fallow, when the August countryside was yellow and tawny, as Johnson wrote.
What’s more, in recent years, August has been unusually wet, and the late season crops have done exceptionally well. Historically, though, August is more often hot and dry.
That wasn’t a big problem for my dad. If August was hot and dry, it just made for a quicker harvest. He would have completed harvesting the wheat, barley and oats by the middle of the month. Other than a small amount of picking corn, he had no late-season crops. Now, the fact that crops are still green in August means that the harvest will drag on into September, October or later.
August doesn’t feel like fall. That’s September. But August heat has a different feel about it – not the same as July. As Johnson wrote, August does have a look, a feel, even a sound that is all its own.