4:00AM, awake, anxious. Will heavy rains mean heavy losses?


Friday, June 21, 2013

It’s 4:30 a.m. and I’m sitting up in bed, listening to the downpour and wondering what’ll mean for us. The approaching thunder woke me up an hour ago and I kept hoping that’s all we’d get – a light show. I tried to figure out if the rumbles were traveling west to east and staying south of us. No. The rain started coming down, hard, at about 4:00. Drat.

Our friend Norm brought over his big tractor and mowing equipment yesterday and cut our hayfield. The alfalfa and grasses had been over 2 feet tall, but yesterday had been the first day he’d been available to do this work for us.

As is usual, the cut forage was left in the field to dry for a day or two, or three, before being raked (turned over), for additional drying. Once the long rows of mixed alfalfa and grasses reach a perfect degree of dryness, a big machine is pulled thru the fields and the stands of fiber are gathered up into tight round bales, each weighing 1,000 lbs. Rain is the enemy in this process. The rain now falling on my hay.

My husband Dave is in the living room, watching the weather radar from the sound of it. If we get three days of sun and light breezes, we could still harvest the 50-60 bales sitting on the fields. But if it stays wet, the hay will mold, and the cutting is lost. We’ll then have to hire someone to come in an chop the hay into smaller pieces so that it doesn’t smother regrowth of the alfalfa and grasses for a second cutting in late July/early August.

Why does this matter? It matters because it’s a direct hit to our bottom line, our sustainability. Because we are committed to 100% grazing, these bales are what we store to feed our grass-fed beef all winter long. If we can’t harvest hay from our fields, we’ll have to buy hay on the open market. And that’s where the rubber meets the road. Last summer’s drought in west central Wisconsin pushed up the cost of a bale from $35 to over $100. In parts of the U.S. where the drought was even more intense, the cost jumped to over $350 a ton, according to some news reports. The situation is made worse by the fact that many farmers have stopped growing hay the last several years instead opting to plant their fields to corn and soybeans – crops offering high profit margins these days. These factors are, eventually, felt by all of us who grow and eat grass-fed beef, lamb or goat, or pastured pork.

Thunder continues to roll overhead. The forecast is for several days of rain.

Time to turn off the bedside lamp. There’s nothing to be done right now. Yet a verse keeps running through my head, “This is a day The Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Faith. It’s also a large part of family farming.