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County Agent Guy

A soggy spring

June 3, 2019
By Jerry Nelson - Columnist , Farm News

The weather in our region has been a tad bit soggy this spring, much in the same way that the oceans contain a tad bit of moisture.

I don't have to look beyond our garden to see proof of this. Where there should be tomatoes growing in black loam, there is an Olympic swimming pool-sized body of water.

It might be possible, theoretically, to make the garden farmable with the use of some extreme methods. First, I would have to bring in a giant pump and begin dewatering operations. But groundwater would quickly seep back in through the saturated soil, necessitating the installation of a cofferdam. In order to speed up the drying process, I would need to acquire one of those jet-powered heaters that are used to dry the racetrack at the Indy 500.

After expending all that money and effort, maybe - just maybe - I could plant the garden. But only if it didn't rain again.

I could then raise tomatoes, but I reckon that my production costs would be upwards of a hundred thousand dollars per pound. Alternatively, we could simply go to our local farmer's market to get our fix of fresh fruit and veggies. That will be OK, but somehow I don't think it will be quite the same.

Another question that's been burning in my mind is: can I file for prevented planting on my garden? What's the payout for decorative gourds that weren't grown or for sweetcorn that never saw the soil? What about radishes that were never raised?

There has been much discussion among farmers regarding how to get their crops planted. One proposed solution is to attach pontoons to corn planters. Others have suggested using a howitzer to shotgun seed across their saturated fields.

I like the idea of seeding by air. A farmer could requisition an airplane - a P-51 Mustang would be my personal choice - and equip it with pneumatic seed-shooting machineguns. You could then conduct strafing runs on your fields, firing the seed directly into the soft, muddy soil. This method might be spendy, but at least you wouldn't have to worry about getting stuck. Plus, you would finish your planting in most awesome way imaginable.

Tough times and adverse weather are nothing new to farmers. It brings to mind a story I heard years ago about an old farmer reminiscing about the Dirty Thirties.

"One spring, my dad and I planted a hundred pounds of potatoes," said the ancient sodbuster. "It was a hot and dry summer. Dad and I carried buckets and buckets of water to those potatoes all summer long. And in the fall, we harvested a hundred pounds of potatoes.

"But that was our own darn fault," the old farmer concluded sadly. "We should have planted more!"

Last week our neighbors decided to plant some corn. They planted their tractor instead.

I wasn't there but can guess from my vast amount of experience with getting farm machinery stuck that copious amounts of muttered imprecations were involved. My wife captured a photo of the unhappy predicament. It appears as though the stuck tractor is melting into the earth.

I suppose they could have left the stuck rig out in the mire and hope that a crop of lawnmowers would sprout from its roots. But they chose the alternative of summoning a ginormous four-wheel-drive tractor to extract the sunken machine.

I later inspected the scene of the incident. The deep ruts left behind by the tractors' wheels were brimming with water. It turned out that my neighbors thought they were planting corn when they were, in fact, digging wells.

Chat with old-timers and they will tell you that they've never seen a spring such as this. Weather archives back them up: this has been the wettest spring in recorded history. The last time it was this watery, the Pleistocene Ice Age had just ended and the glaciers were beating a rapid retreat. Not that I personally recall the event, mind you. I'm not that old.

But I do recall that the spring and summer of 1996 were uncommonly wet. Some of my fields had been inundated for so long that cattails were beginning to grow where there should have been rows of corn.

Out of sheer frustration, I wrote a letter to Mel Kloster, my county extension agent. In the letter, I asked Mel to advise me about how to get rid of the ducks and jet skis and power boats that had infested my corn field.

I began the letter with the salutation "Dear County Agent Guy." And somehow, amidst all of that mud and misery, a newspaper column was born.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

 
 

 

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