At The Farm GateWeather demands resiliency, binds farmers everywhere
We mount rain gauges on various fenceposts for measuring rainfall totals. My brother can cite the exact date of the previous year’s last freeze of spring and first freeze of fall as if they were birthdays. And I would predict an 80% chance of weather talk at the dinner table with my family.
Weather binds farmers from coast to coast and generation to generation. Since farming began, this single variable impacts everything from morning chores and mental states to profitability and table talk. Rain makes grain, and wind can take it down. We mow hay when the sun shines, yet never rule out an irritating pop-up shower before the forage is baled. When the weather threatens or improves the global supply of food and fuel, the commodity markets react.
Data shows that over time weather comes with greater variability and extremes from cold to hot and dry to wet. Since 1980, the number of days it has rained more than two inches has doubled in Illinois, a statistic cited in a new docuseries at WatchUsGrow.org. More rain in a shorter time can trigger crop losses and soil erosion, but farmers have adjusted to protect crops and the environment. More than ever on our farm and farms across the state, grass filter strips along streams, fields of cover crops and reduced tillage practices slow and filter water flowing across the land. In fact, Illinois farmers and landowners have dedicated more than 800,000 acres to land and water conservation.
Technology significantly advances resiliency on the farm. On our smartphones, we view subscription weather forecasts and field-specific precipitation totals. From tractor cabs, we watch live radar images for rain that threatens fieldwork.
Bigger or faster planters plant crops quicker, and high-capacity combines gather more crop during windows of favorable weather. Tile drainage systems improve water management within fields. Even the tedder, a farm implement that aerates mowed hay, helps hay cure sooner to bale before a rainfall that could spoil it.
We talk to neighbors about the ground’s frost depth in winter, the soil temperatures in spring and the field-to-field rainfall differences by summer. Those same friends understand the deafening yet therapeutic sound of a much-needed summer rain on the metal roof of the farm shop without discussion. But, several surely will call or text after they’ve seen the rain gauge.
About the author: Joanie Stiers farms with her family in West-Central Illinois, where they grow corn, soybeans, wheat and hay and raise beef cattle and backyard chickens.