Two-year drought ends with lots of rain

By Jim Suber

Last night’s winds from the passing storms with some imagination could be likened to combined sighs of relief from most all of us who live in the land of extremes, or Kansas.

The feeling of relief is that which signals the end of the two-year drought, the ponds and wells drying up, the cattle being sold off, the inevitable too much winter at the end of the hay, and the nagging anxiety of not really knowing when and if it will ever rain enough again. You know, the societal amplification and magnification of the dire messages about climate change can exact a toll on one’s psyche.

But rain trickling down through the feet of soil, clay, broken rock and sand to bedrock kind of puts to rest for a while all of the background anxiety that a long drought offers. I will not scoff, because I know first-hand of more than a few persons, both in and out of agriculture, who suffered great financial setbacks in the drought we hope has ended. At least it has been mitigated a lot, even though it might not be over.

Oh, there are nuisances involved with rain and too much of it at once. We in Kansas often pay ultra-high prices for our drinks of water. Hail, freezing rain, tornadoes, double-digit downpours on driving winds, floods, sodden unplanted fields and washed out roads and bridges are considered by the weather gods as legal tender for payment for moisture here.

We all dislike contending with mud, but isn’t it a nice problem for a while?

Personally, because I grow vegetables on a small commercial scale, prolonged wet weather can instantly take out a crop with ensuing diseases or weeds or both. One reason so many of the nation’s vegetables come from semi-arid and arid places is that irrigators can control the water amounts and placements. A longtime vegetable grower in Kansas once told me she would much prefer a dry growing season over a wet one. Not all of us can irrigate, however, so we take what comes.

Conventional farmers miss out, too. Many soybean plantings have been delayed and there is a chance that some fields will have to be planted in shorter season classes and varieties if this wet period keeps up.

With the storms across much of the state comes a renewed interest in the status of the wheat crop. This one could really be interesting to follow and to hear stories about.

The recent developments regarding weed resistance to chemicals, the legal disputes, the finding of a field of genetically modified wheat in a legally questionable setting, the litigious corporation whose name begins with an ‘M’ and ends in an ‘o’, and the continued unrest among the public on the entire issue of GMO crops leads me to wonder whether we should not concentrate more on studying weeds’ genetics in order to enhance our own food supplies. Actually, I have proposed this for years. Velvet leaf, besides making dandy toilet tissue in its green leafy stage for old-fashioned farm boys decades ago, offers up seeds which can stay viable for 100 years or more in the natural environment. Can our corn seeds do that?  I say we need to study and develop products and traits from all living plants, many of which we now just seek to kill as weeds. Nature, as represented by her weeds, is resilient and tough and still holds surprises. Just ask M.

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