State of the Farm

Recall that last month we discussed placing a bet on rain for a good winter pasture. As the stock brokers would say, we went long on rain. When placing that bet this year we noted that we had abstained last year for fear that the drought would continue into the fall and winter, saving our money for hay instead of spending it on seed, fuel and labor. Instead, we got the heaviest rain of the 2011 and early 2012 fall/winter season but had no seed on the ground to take advantage of the windfall of water — much to our regret. Not only do we save money by having winter pasture to keep our livestock fed (hay being the more expensive alternative), the stock prefer it over hay. It keeps a big grin on their face all winter. So this year we spent into the 4 digit dollar range as well as  much time on the tractor preparing the pastures for broadcasting the rye, oats and clover. We then broadcast our seed and had just enough rain in October to cause the seed to sprout- we were encouraged! Winter pasture is a beautiful thing, bringing rich greens to the landscape in contrast to the yellows and reds of the fall season.  Farming is not just about the mechanics — it’s also the beauty that comes along with it. Really.

What have we gotten since then? No rain, and a new long term forecast that the drought will worsen over the winter period. We are watching our sprouting winter grasses starting to turn brown at the tips as we contact our hay growers to get us through the winter. Maybe things will turn in time to save the crop, but we cannot take the chance of having no hay to back us up. So we buy stored grass and hope we don’t need it.

I hope this doesn’t sound negative or feint-hearted. We learned long ago that farmers gamble on what the future will hold, not just every year but every season and every month. Sometimes we’re wrong, going long when we should have gone short. It’s the nature of the beast. We accept our fate as part of the deal and wait for the season when everything goes right, knowing that it will come. We like to think of ourselves as knowledgeable farmers — but in truth it might be nothing more than stubborn optimism on our part.

So we keep smiling in recognition that most of us do not have the privilege of dancing with Mother Nature. She is a grand lady with occasional flaws.