The short time between finishing taxes and starting calving is typically the time of year when I have the most optimism, the most hope, and the biggest daydreams. There’s a little space — a little breathing room to read with opportunity in mind, to consider ideas.
Last year’s bomb cyclone shut that down. A year ago today (March 14), I wrote on Facebook: “The pens are shin-deep in mud and poop, the calves cannot walk, and the cows have mush for brains.”
It’s hard to look back on March 2019 and on the spring and summer weather conditions that followed.
This year, I’ve got the anticipation, but it’s tempered, and the times when it rains instead of snows make me worry.
One advantage of farming is that it is, indeed, seasonal. We possess the experience of last year, and the previous years, and we have the opportunity to start all over this year.
Sure, it’s a little scary. I wouldn’t be surprised if people in the areas most affected by last year’s ice, mud and flood experience some level of PTSD, and that would be really scary.
In most lines of work, there’s a level of risk. For those of us in professions that can be carried on in the next generation, it behooves us to talk to our kids about the risks as well as the rewards.
Our oldest, a sixth-grader, has already decided he would just as soon be a welder as a farmer. Of note, right now he’s a whole lot better at taking things apart than he is at putting them together, but who doesn’t like metal and sparks?
Welding, at least, is marginally less dependent on the relative frightfulness of the weather.
There’ve been minutes this year that have been eerily reminiscent of last year’s problems. We rarely have been dry on top at any point for the last year, and it’s wise to stick to graveled roads because under the surface, the mud still lurks.
This warm, humid, rainy-instead-of-snowy winter has been a little hard on optimism.
On Super Bowl Sunday, we had soup after church (souper bowls; I know you understand), and in the midst of small talk, I recounted how I’d told my husband that if this was climate change, I wasn’t a fan, and he’d replied that if this was climate change, he’d have to figure out how to do things differently.
“If this is climate change,” replied our seed corn dealer, who’s also a farmer with cows, “I’m going to find something different to do.”
I was a little surprised, but I also wasn’t. The longer I thought about it, I decided it’s actually an enviable attitude to have. Climate change will try to twist our arms, but we need to frame this as an opportunity.
Opportunity is something farmers can be really good at. Farmers tend to be good adapters and adopters — for example, technology has renovated everything: soil tests, GPS, metered water, in-seed pesticide and a thousand other things.
Whether our next challenge is climate change or some other thing, for most people, it doesn’t pay to be stubborn or try to outlast the inevitable. That said, it can be really, really difficult to make a decision for major change.
Relatives of a former Hub colleague chose to move off a family homestead in Custer County after last spring’s floods. Three generations had lived on the place; two generations of immediate family had grown up there. But after the floods damaged the home so that it would require tremendous work to make it habitable, they decided to live in town instead. It’s a big change.
If and when we are called upon to make life-changing decisions because of life-changing climate change, I hope we have the good sense to decide with intention instead of merely being stubborn.
This Soils and Streams column first appeared in the March 14, 2020, issue of the Kearney Hub. I am sad to say this one never made the online edition.