"It's so dry the trees are bribing the dogs." - Charles Martin
Sustainably Farming Through a Drought
Ahhh, rain, at last!
For those of you doing your rain dances, thank you! Or maybe the rain god seeing yours truly doing
my version of a Hokey-Pokey rain dance exclaimed "Oh my God!" and out of exasperation gave
us rain just to avoid having to see me continue "rain" dancing! Anyways, we all should be very
fortunate that rains have returned to the Hoosier state. Despite the damage already done by the April
thru July record-setting dry, hot weather, the recent rains have stymied what
had been an ever increasing gap between supply and demand for agricultural
Late planed corn benefited from the rains, as well as most
soybeans. Even though those of us who
are more health conscious people consume little if any these crops, the yield
of these crops will indirectly affect price and availability of the healthy
food we do want. For example, if there
is less corn to feed, conventional farmers will consider feeding cows more hay
(already in short supply), the same hay that a grass-fed beef operation would
ordinarily feed to their beef cows in the winter. In our compartamentalized world, "everything is only 6 degrees of seperation from affecting everything else."
Like probably many of you, I also enjoyed a reprieve this
year from winter cold, snow and weeks of dreary weather. Things seemed to get even better when spring came early. Towards the end of
March I wised up though, recognizing this peculiar weather pattern as not right
and began to think about responding and preparing accordingly, for a
drought. I was only twelve years old
when the last major drought struck the area in 1988, but I still remember the
weather pattern that led to the dry spring and very hot summer, eerily similar
to this years weather pattern and ensuing drought. I will gladly welcome back a more normal
winter, including the smorgasbord of snow, ice, and dreary cloudy, rainy
Delights we employ a myriad of practices that assist in mitigating a drought's
Dont run the tank
dry! (Maintain a Feed Reserve)
A safe pilot maintains a reserve supply of fuel in plane's
tanks. He does not plan to burn that
fuel during the course of normal, ordinary operation. It is saved
(reserved) for emergencies only. At
Pastures Delights we maintain a supply of feed that is reserved for emergencies
only, which would typically be for a drought. Whether feed be stored in the field as yet to
be grazed pasture or in bales of stored hay, we keep a supply of feed reserved for
getting us through periods of less than normal available feed supply. This practice keeps us from getting pigeon
holed into a situation where we have limited options and would have to consider
purchasing hay in short supply which is very expensive, sell the future herd
(heifers) at a discount price due to the flooded markets with other farmers
also selling livestock that they dont have enough feed for, or over-graze the
pastures which results in delayed and reduced pasture growth when the rains do
eventually return. A feed reserve sure does help minimize the stress on us. Can you imagine having to worry about feeding cows' mouths?
fuel! (Efficiently Manage Our Resources)
Even though we may have ample feed on hand, we prudently
manage all our feed resources for minimal waste. At Pastures Delights we graze every nook and
cranny of pasture figuring it saves us from feeding stored (baled) hay which
avails us to increasing the size of the herd or selling any excess hay. Just with our small non-lactating herd of 10 dry
cows and heifers, every single day we do not feed hay saves Pastures Delights
(our customers) $30 at today's feed prices.
We do not keep animals that don't have a purpose or good
reason to justify feeding valuable feed resources to. In a drought year like this year we will get
rid of beef steers and lower performing animals quickly. We want to save our feed for the animals that
need it most and will do the most good with it.
Supe up the Engine!
Even though when the Mother Nature turns off the water
spicket it is just a matter of time that all life forms will feel the effects
there are, however, several nifty gadgets from nature that we can utilize in
the realm of sustainable agronomic (farming) practices that will help stave
off the effects of drought.
One of the goals of sustainable farming is to preserve, if
not increase, the amount of organic matter in soil. Organic matter is dead organic material
(plants, roots, kitchen scraps, manure) that is decomposed into humus. Humus acts as a sponge-like reservoir in the
soil that stores nutrients and water.
The more soil humus the larger the soil's water reservoir. To get a good visual on how this works let's
compare two buildings, one being constructed of plaster and wood and the other
constructed of brick. If the electricity
goes out on a cold winter night the building constructed out of brick is going
to keep you warmer longer than the wood and plaster building. Every time a cow takes a bite of grass the
plants roots will die back a proportionate amount and regrow again as the
plant grows. This pulsing effect of root
growth and dying helped create the rich soils of the Great Plains. For every 1% increase organic matter each
cubic feet of soil can hold and additional 1.5 quarts of water. On the flip side, during periods of excessive
rainfall the higher the soil organic matter the more water it can capture thus
retaining more water where it can be put to use rather than going the river and
causing potential flooding issues!
Grow a water magnet!
You know an sustainable farmer is darn good when his plants can
get water right out of thin air. In the
process of growing healthy, quality food one of the agronomic goals of a sustainable farmer
is to get the brix as high as possible in the plant. Brix contains sugar for the plant. If you wish to experiment, leave an open
bag of sugar on the countertop for a day.
The next day you will probably notice the sugar has clumped up. This is the polarity of the sugar drawing
moisture out of the air and causing the sugar to clump. In similar fashion, the higher the sugar
content in a plant the more moisture a plant can absorb out of the air. Isnt that cool?! I heard a report that out west it was
observed that a farmers organic crops, with higher birx, require 25-30% less irrigation.
The consolation prize for a farmers achievement in
increasing a plant's energy (sugar) level, is the plant uses the sugars to feed through its
roots a higher population of mycorrhizal fungi. These fungi attach themselves to the roots
and act as extenions of the the root and assist with water uptake in the
Keep in mind, these are goals. It takes a time, money, and Mother Nature on our side to get soil tuned-up to be in tip-top shape. We will continue to strive towards these goals by being good stewards of our resources.