Thursday, February 25, 2021

Whether Wythards are Wise

"How much time do you think?" asked Tammy.
"This one's moving pretty slow, probably half an hour, maybe more," I responded.
"Huh, we can try to put those lettuce transplants in then," she said.
"It'll be a little muddy, but it's only going to get muddier," I grumbled. "Let's go."

As farmers, we are in fascinated by the weather.  As farmers, we are motivated by the weather.  As farmers, we are often at the mercy of the weather.  And, as farmers, we weather the weather.

The thing that amazes me most is that the weather is actually very rarely completely unfriendly to those who are diversified growers.  Now, I also have to admit that the weather is also rarely perfect for us, but that is beside the point.  We could successfully argue that every season we've operated the Genuine Faux Farm has had its unfriendly elements and every season has had some friendly components as well.  

For example, 2018 was extremely rough for us with very wet weather early and late.  We could argue that the season was entirely unfriendly and cite all sorts of crop failures to back us up.  But, additional evidence would show that we were not telling the entire truth.  Many of our perennial crops, such as apples, berries and asparagus did very well.  The broiler chickens and turkeys sized up and the taste of the meat was exceptional.  Egg production stayed very consistent all season long.  The garlic was a little smaller than usual, but turned out just fine.  Half of the onion crop was really nice.  We had some decent summer squash, zucchini and cucumber.  In short, there were good things that happened, even if the whole body of work might have balanced out on the negative for the year as far as crops were concerned.

As a sidelight - how often do we, as humans, fail to tell ourselves the full truth about things?  I'm not referring to how we present our beliefs, ideas and thoughts to others either.  I am talking about how we create our own story about what is going on just with us and around us - and that story is filled with partial truths.  Is it really important that 2018 was bad or good?  Must we label it only as one or the other?  But, I digress - so I will show you a picture of raindrops on a Redtwig Dogwood.

Climate and Weather

There is no escaping the fact that we must pay attention to the weather if we want to raise produce and poultry.  It is also clear that we, as farmers, must continue to keep an eye on how the climate changes.  To ignore the difference between what climate is and what weather is - that is not even a choice if you want to farm.  

Or - let me rephrase that - ignoring the difference between climate and weather is not a choice if you want to continue to farm in the long term.  I am sure you can be a grower from one year to the next and move on once things no longer work the way you have been doing things.  But, if you want to keep plugging along, you need to take some time to read and learn what is going on with the climate so you can better prepare yourself.

Here, in northeast Iowa, it seems that one of the trends that will impact us the most at our farm will continue to be excessive rainfall.  Another trend is the northward migration of various pests and diseases that has been documented for quite some time now.  A third is also rain related, but it has to do with the amount of cumulative rain we have gotten during certain times of the year.  The graphic below comes from KWWL (published last July) and shows the top 10 wettest Junes for our area.

Since 2021 is an odd year, we should be fine.  But, everything else aside, if your farm has trouble with too much rain and the climate is showing that it will support a higher likelihood of wet weather - you should prepare.  Yes?  Sure, the second half of the year was dry, but the overall trend says we should be ready for wet.

There is no good way to predict exactly what we will encounter and it is perfectly clear that whatever the weather is and wherever the climate goes, it will impact what we do and how well things go.   But, one thing is clear to me.  Our world still provides what we need to be successful farmers, we just need to prepare to use what we have responsibly and we need to take a longer view than the next succession of lettuce or this season's crops.

We need a long-view and a long-view points to being a steward of the land rather than a steward of this year's balance sheet.

Key Word: Resiliency

One of the things we are consider during the winter months is how we, the Genuine Faux Farm farmers, are going to respond to the climate and the resulting weather patterns we are likely to see from this point onward.  We can't predict exactly what will happen, but we can study the bigger patterns so we can prepare just as much as we are able.  But, Mother Nature doesn't check with us to see if we are ready for the next thing she's going to do - so we'll get surprised and things won't always go our way.

So, we work on adapting and we find ways to move with the wind as it blows us from here to there.   Over time, we have come to realize that we will not be resilient farmers if we insist that our way is the only way and try to go toe to toe with nature, doing our best to subdue it to our will.  That means that we keep adjusting how we do things at the Genuine Faux Farm - trying to bend with the wind and support natural systems that can handle new patterns and new extremes.

Whoa!  Wait a minute there Rob!  Haven't you ALWAYS said you want to work WITH nature and not AGAINST nature? 

Why, yes.  I have.  But, saying is not the same as doing.  Sometimes you have to experience things before you realize that some of the processes you thought were ok (and working with nature) are maybe not as ok as you thought.  The simple actions of tilling the soil, removing existing growth, introducing plants YOU want to grow and providing fertilizer, water and cultivation can be contrary to what nature is inclined to have happen.  Much of the act of farming - at least as many of us know it - is the attempt to impose our will on the land.

I have come to believe that farming is similar to nurturing a close relationship with another person.  There are concessions that must be made.  Each participant has to consider the other's wants and needs - and those wants and needs can change over time.  It takes work and consistent effort.  You have to be willing to admit when you are wrong and make alterations so you can do better.  And - you have to find a way so both parties in the relationship can be happy - all while being true to who they are.

The Genuine Faux Farm will continue to evolve and the farmers will continue to learn - always looking for the best solution, even though they know they likely won't find an optimal solution.  These solutions will change as the farm and the farmers adapt. 

But don't worry.  I'm sure your farmers will also grumble about the weather multiple times in the coming season.  It's normal.  If you consider that weather systems are sometimes akin to an alarm clock (hurry up, plant that lettuce!) you might have sympathy for the grumpy farmer.  After all, wasn't it you who knocked your alarm clock to the floor this morning?

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