A drought is a prolonged shortage in the water supply. They can last for months or years and have a huge impact on the local ecosystem and economy.
We just happen to live a severely drought stricken part of Nebraska. Every step sounds like crunching on egg shells. In large parts of the country, crops are stunted or sparse. Between wildfires and lack of rain, there is no hay to be made. Ranchers are selling off cattle in response to the drought. Homesteaders are selling off or butchering stock. Local fruits and veggies are harder to come by. The blasting winds combined with high heat is sucking the life out of everything.
It takes years, often decades, for the land to recover. I remember the 70’s. The lakes were empty, crops were non existent, water was severely rationed. It was like that for several years. Times were lean. Many places have still not fully recovered.
For us, personally, everyday we wonder, will this be the day the well runs dry? We are not the only ones wondering. In our area the water table is very shallow and very alkaline. As the drought worsens, the water becomes harder, meaning more unwanted minerals are present and less life sustaining for plants.
My days have countless hours added to them weeding our garden so not a single drop of water is wasted, and hauling water to our one hundred and thirty newly planted trees, plus the orchard. We gave up trying to maintain any semblance of ‘lawn’ in front of the house. The lawn will not feed or shade me. Besides, it will grow back after a rain. We also know that once the trees grow a little more, they will begin to shade the property and act as a wind break, in turn keeping the pasture grass growing better during the next dry spell.
The big questions on everyone’s mind is when will it rain again? Will it be enough? Predictions show that another La Nina is coming our way, which would mean another year of drought. That means without substantial rains or snows, whatever we have now, will be close to half or less next growing season.
Old timers talk of the dirty thirties, the filthy fifties and the 1970’s. Many farm families have diaries from their parents or grandparents that made it through the drought in the late 1800s. Some days we wonder if we are savvy enough to ride out another major one.
Many of our friends and neighbors have farms and ranches, homesteads, raise specialty crops or market veggies. This is effecting them tremendously.
Ranchers are selling cattle off in record numbers from the Midwest all the way to the west coast. Some outfits are folding all together. Others are holding on to the best of their animals in hopes of starting over. (This will have a profound effect on the market come winter) There is not much hay to cut. What the ranchers can find is very expensive, the law of supply and demand, and many times it is also located far away.
The same goes for our goat/sheep/llama raising friends. Hay and straw for bedding is at a premium. We know a number of homesteaders that have sold off all their goats or sheep. Why? Because it is not right to nearly starve an animal when you can’t afford the feed. It is also not fiscally responsible to the homestead to spend more than you can ever make back.
This drought also affects the health of our animals. When the ground is this dry, there are no insects for the chickens and geese. When they’re hot and stressed, they don’t lay eggs as well, shortening the local egg supply. The grass has little nutritional value for hooved animals when it is all dried and shriveled. They will walk further and eat less and in turn weigh less, bringing even less at market. The weeds easily take over pastures and gardens, so now chemicals may need to be applied, before they get a hold and choke out the grasses.
It could be argued that we can just feed them commercial mix- like layer feed or pellets or such. That too is all made from something that needs to be grown. In a drought, even that can be affected and harder to come by.
Our farmer market growers report substantial markups in fertilizers, fuel for the tractor and water rates (for those without wells of their own) The lack of available hired help is also hindering production and driving cost. Growers for these markets put in long hours. This year they are putting in many extra hours keeping the soil tilled or covered to retain whatever moisture they can.
They too are hit hard. We’ve been to number of markets between Nebraska and North Dakota. An alarming trend is that most are sold out of everything within the first hour or so. There is just not ‘that much’ right now. Maybe later in the season even though this normally considered prime time but I’m not sure I’d count on it.
Economically, this drought is straining an already fragile food chain, not to mention the stability of our communities. Consumers want to buy fruits and veggies at the farmers markets, but they are more expensive and have less yields to even sell. Farmers are paying a stepped up price for water, local veggie growers are too. Orchards have been uprooted because of the lack of water, leading to a shortage of fruits. In some places irrigation has been cut off and water that farmers rely on to grow grains and veggies that we and our animals eat.
Wild fires have burnt hundreds of thousands, if not millions of acres of pasture and croplands. These are just a few of the reasons for loss of income. Factor in the rise in prices on the consumer’s end for these items. Everything costs substantially more and there is less of it. This all trickles back to our communities. Less money going around. If a rancher sells all but a handful cattle, he may have to let his ‘hands’ go. What will they do? They need work too. These hands may have to uproot their families and move away, leaving less dollars in the community.
It takes more than a couple bad years for a farmer, rancher or homesteader to toss in the towel. They are the stewards of the land. Ever the optimists. “Next year” is our motto. We love what we do. We love the land and the animals and we take great pride in surmounting any and all odds. This drought will not beat us.
“The drought makes us think. It makes us better farmers.” – Tom Jones @ Providence Farms
A true statement. Each drought has made us rethink how we grow everything and led to major innovations.