Saturday, July 14, 2012

It Droppeth as the Gentle Rain

It rained yesterday, and boy did we need it.

I doubt there's any natural phenomenon that encapsulates the essence of pure beneficence as much as a soaking rain to a farmer when you're dry. Though we only had a 20-30% chance of precipitation according to the US Weather Service, we hit the lottery late Friday afternoon when a couple of small storm cells wandered into northeast Missouri, dropping 1.3 inches of liquid salvation. Yeehah! 

It was the first significant rain we'd had in four weeks, which included a brutal stretch of record-breaking days of with triple-digit temperatures.

While the quality of mercy may or may not have been strained at Sandhill Farm the last month, our crops and our resilience sure were. When we are blessed by a good soaking in mid-July, several good things happen:

o  The temperature drops, and every living thing breathes easier.
o  It settles the interminable dust.
o  All the folks signed up to irrigate garden crops get a holiday.
o  The plants thirstily uptake the water and then transpire it back into the atmosphere, providing significant evaporative cooling for the next several days. (Yes, the humidity shoots up, but it's a good trade-off.)
o  In a few days we'll be able to effectively weed between the rows (with hoes) of our field crops; it's hard to kill weeds when you can't easily penetrate to the root layer in dry conditions.
o  The sorghum and soybeans will come out of stress and experience a growth spurt based on the water. (While we are committed to irrigating our gardens, the field crops are on their own and this rain will make a huge difference in crop yields come September.)

In short, we're way more than twice blessed.

People fret about how US culture will cope with diminishing oil supplies and I appreciate that it's a worry. But it's nothing compared with the challenge of living with uncertain water supplies. In our part of the Midwest the long-range global warming forecast is for hotter and drier conditions. There's absolutely no question that it's getting warmer (we've already been assigned a different agricultural zone based on steadily warmer temperatures the past few decades). As a working farm, our critical concern is whether we'll have enough water to grow food—first for ourselves, and then for our neighbors.

Historically our average annual rainfall is about 35 inches, which is plenty for good crops. What if we have to make do with half of that? Observing the trend toward less predictable weather, my community is questioning the extent to which we can count on "normal" weather. Recognizing how dependent we are on access to water, we're converting the roofs of all our major buildings to metal and planning to build large cisterns next to all of them. Over the course of the next decade we'll gradually increase our ability to impound potable water by 20,000 gallons or more—which may or may not be enough.

For all of the increased security that represents, however, I don't expect it to lessen by a single drop the joy I derive from a July rainstorm.

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