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The woes of rainy June

Erica Louder for Progressive Forage Published on 07 July 2020

Weather is a topic I cover all the time on this blog and one, if you are a farmer, you think about a lot, almost to the point of obsession, at least I do.

Maybe you are tired of weather talk (join the club), but of all the things a farmer looks to manage, the weather may be the one almost entirely out of our control. As you have guessed, weather and, more specifically, rain is the topic of today’s blog.

I am writing from a small town in southern Idaho. By all standards, we are a desert, but we are also one of the most productive regions in the country for alfalfa hay production. With consideration given for acres of production or value of product, we are almost always in the top five for alfalfa hay production and quite regularly in the top two (dang you, California). From someone outside farming, looking strictly at the numbers, the high Idaho desert seems incongruous to hay production. Alfalfa needs anywhere from 18-36 inches of rain a season, and southern Idaho receives less than half that amount. Our sophisticated system of reservoirs and canals turn our desert into a booming agricultural region, fit for fantastic hay production. The dry climate combined with irrigation create ideal conditions for putting up dry hay by the millions of tons each season. This hay is then shipped around the world to the marvel of modern export markets.

However, this system is far from seamless and is annually interrupted by June rains. We average around .69 inches of rain in June, which isn’t much in the grand scheme. But, that bit of rain interrupts sleep, starts arguments, and has farmers across the region watching their weather apps and counting out days in the forecast between swathing, raking and baling. It’s a lucky farmer who doesn’t get any rain on first or second hay cuttings.

This June has been one for the record book. The .69 inches of rain has turned into close to 3 inches in some areas, with Boise (the capitol) breaking 150-year-old records on precipitation accumulation in single days and single months. As you can imagine, it has some farmers resigning themselves to Mother Nature and others putting down payments on steamers.

On our farm, our hay has not escaped (and rarely does) the dreaded June rains. Fortunately, our first cutting of alfalfa only got light rain, and it is still plenty good enough for our cattle. However, we have a crop of barley hay laying on the ground that has soaked up the rain like a sponge. As greener farmers than most, we are still learning how to yield control (at least some control) to Mother Nature and take the bad and good years in turn.

Yesterday, our little town held our postponed high school graduation. We celebrated with the graduates by making rounds to the homes of our friends to wish the graduates well. We made five stops, and the topic of conversation at each location was the rain, which pushed the celebrations indoors. For the farmers in the room, their hay as well as the rain was the preferred topic of conversation. As we followed each other around the countryside, each of us stopping at the same homes, the conversations repeated themselves, all of us eager to impart our opinion on the rain and our hay to a new audience.

This is a snapshot of late June in southern Idaho in one of the strangest years of my life, and this rain is simply one more thing to make 2020 “record-breaking” or at least “unprecedented.” For all that 2020 has been, I hope your farming season defies all expectations in the best way. We all could use a little brightness ‘round here.  end mark

PHOTO: Photo by Mike Dixon.

Erica Louder is a freelance writer based in Idaho. Email Erica Louder.

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