Lack of rain could cause big problems

By Jim Suber

Another week hurried by with nary a drop of rain where we need it. I really knew people who used the word “nary” (not any) in their everyday conversation, along with “yorn” (yours) and “younguns” (children) and so on. They were good people, but were not from our part of Georgia or our modern times. Georgia was diversified as early as 1950 with mountains, plains and ocean, four U.S. highways and several races and cultures.

Times were also much simpler then, it feels like, but maybe not if you were struggling.

Agriculture certainly is more complex, what with $100 billion plus annual farm bill budgets, with most of that going out in food stamps and school meals. Yet, farmers’ payments are again the target of the spending cuts, or at least the ones that will happen.

Remember a year or two ago in the spring when the federal agencies and the weather combined to flood the entire Mississippi/Missouri river basin? And it lasted and lasted, and hundreds of thousands of acres of rich farm ground and standing crops were flooded on purpose. Saved were the decaying properties and boarded up businesses the race riot fires of the 1960s spared in places like Cairo, Ill.

Now the situation is reversed. There is no water in the rivers, relatively speaking, and folks are hollering at the feds to release Missouri River water from reservoirs so barges can float the Mississippi. Those barges are big players in agriculture. Upstream they come in winter with fertilizers for the Corn Belt and Plains States. Downstream they go in summer and fall with the new crops. It is said that ag traffic on the Mighty Miss during Decembers and Januarys amounts to $9 billion worth, when the water is deep enough, and also when it’s not running bluff to bluff faster than a white water rapid as it was a few seasons back. Funny how the feds and the river systems are symbolic of a lot of things in our nation—all or nothing, 180 degrees out then back to zero at the speed of light, up or down, love or hate, drought or flood. Not much in between ground today.

Unless it rains a lot soon, they’re probably going to force barges to load out a lot less to reduce their drafts from 12 feet to 8 feet, and if that doesn’t do it, maybe they won’t let them go down the river at all between St. Louis and, oh, Cairo. Think trains. Canoe enthusiasts on the Kaw will have burned feet from carrying their crafts on hot sand all the way from Wamego to Lawrence.

Area farmers have been putting down anhydrous ammonia like mad in recent days. The prices for most of the major nutrients are down slightly from last year, so the guys are doing what they can to save some input costs. If the drought continues, though, the spring prices might rise steeply if the potash, phosphorus and nitrogen cannot come up the river.

Looking at the calendar, it’s not that long until we reach the northern rim of the fiscal cliff canyon even as the Jan. 1 New Year’s Baby is whisked off stage at 12:01 a.m. for a massive smelly diaper change. It’s also not long until April corn planting time. And just think, daylight hours gain after Dec. 22. Don’t sweat that Mayan calendar stuff. It either will or it won’t. We’ll be gone or here. Up or Down. One or T’other. Nary a worry.

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