Farm Byline: September 2021
Drought is like cancer
by Al Gustin
It was probably in the second or third year of the great agricultural depression of the 1980s. The lady cashier at the hardware store said, “You’re the guy that does the farm news.” I was pleased that she recognized me. But then she added: “I don’t watch you anymore. Your news is too depressing.”
Drought is depressing. Drought is different than other natural disasters. Hail, tornadoes, flash floods – they often come with little warning. The damage can be devastating, but it’s quick. Those disasters are rather like a heart attack or stroke. Drought, on the other hand, is more like cancer.
Hit-and-miss thunderstorms this year saved some crops and pastures. But for others, the drought never relinquished its stranglehold. Like cancer, drought has stages. First, the pastures and haylands don’t “green up” as they should. Then the small grain crops suffer and eventually succumb. Some make a little hay. Then, the corn and soybeans suffer.
Farmers suffer, too – financially, of course. But, beyond that, it does something to your psyche to watch the crops you planted suffer day after day and eventually give up. An occasional half-inch of rain puts the drought in remission, but just for a few days. Then, it seems, it returns with a vengeance. And the unrelenting heat! Meanwhile, pastures quit growing. Water holes go dry or become toxic. Cattle graze on what little dried-up grass is there, until it’s gone. Cattle get sold – generations of genetic selection gone.
Difficult, gut-wrenching decisions have to be made. You pray for rain, and pray that you don’t lose hope. But it’s hard, very hard.
And so, forgive me, Mr. Radio Announcer, if I push the button for another station when you say, “Stay tuned, we’ll check that forecast in 60 seconds.” Because, you see, I’ve heard that forecast a half dozen times this morning as I bale wheat the crop insurance adjuster appraised at one bushel per acre. I know what you’re going to say: “Highs in the 90s for the next four days, with little chance of significant rain.” Forgive me if I tune out. Like that lady at the hardware store, I find your forecast just too depressing.