Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.
Track coaches complain about the weather for a few weeks every spring. They look to the sky, scowl at the forecast, and adjust their practices to meet the challenges that spring often brings. They’re complete amateurs compared to farmers when the subject of weather comes up.
I have a couple of friends who between them have farmed for over a century, and they are constantly claiming it’s going to be a dry (insert the season) no matter what the weather looks like outside, or how high the snow is piled in the mountains.
After three days of nearly constant rain, the tally hit two inches at our place. That’s a lot of rain for an area regarded as a “high desert,” but, what does that mean in raw numbers?
We don’t have a huge operation by Fremont County standards, just around 120 total acres in grass, and alfalfa, but that two inches of rainfall represents an incredible amount of water when you stop to do the math.
An acre is 43,560 square feet, a cubic foot of water is equal to 7.48 gallons. That’s our starting point. If it rains two inches, that’s equivalent to one-sixth of a foot in a vertical column of water. Now a little multiplication, take 43,560 divide it by six, and multiply it by 7.48. If you calculated that correctly your little acre of paradise just received 54,304 gallons of water right out of the sky over the long weekend.
In our case, the total of “free” water since late Thursday is 6,516,576 gallons as of early Sunday evening.
That’s a lot of water by any measure.
The old timers called soaking, slow-moving front like this one a “Million Dollar Rain,” for obvious reasons.
We live in an arid region, a few spots in Fremont County average over 10 inches of rain annually, while a few others, like Shoshoni and Jeffrey City, call two inches a wet year.
At a dinner this weekend, I ran into my longtime friend Gary Huxtable. We ducked inside out of the rain with a pair of grins on our faces reflecting the rain falling outside.
“Irrigate through the rain, my dad always said,” I told Gary.
“It sure evens things out doesn’t it,” Gary said.
He was spot on.
We don’t farm a lot of ground but the problems are the same if you plant a 400-acre field or a 35-acre patch, you have to prepare the ground, get the seed and fertilizer in place, and bring it up either naturally or with irrigation water.
The natural method is vastly superior.
My dad and I hit the lucky mark a few times over the last half-century with a crop planted, corrugates in place and ditches pulled waiting for the Wind River to be diverted. The luck came with a heavy snow that covered the ground with several inches of very dense moisture, or the slow-moving, soaking rain we just experienced. When this happens, the desert literally blooms.
If it’s a dry spring as we’ve had several times over the last decade the crop looks spotty, is prone to weeds, and doesn’t come up as well. At the end of the season, it doesn’t produce as well either.
Having land under a pivot improves the odds of a good grain crop and a better start at getting alfalfa established than flood irrigating with gated pipe or the old method with ditches, and cuts, but it can’t compare with what nature offers.
A little over 10 years ago we attended our nephew Adam’s wedding in Fairfield, Iowa. My wife Sue commented on how clean, neatly groomed, and well-kept the farms in that section of the Hawkeye State were.
“Sure, they are,” I said. “These guys don’t have to farm. They just plant in the spring and harvest in the fall. They get all the rain they need, don’t have to get their guts bounced around driving over corrugates, don’t pull ditches, don’t worry about water, and don’t spend a fortune on electricity to keep the pumps going. The wind doesn’t rip the water out of the ground like it does back home either.”
Yes, I think the guys in the Midwest have it much easier than the farmers and ranchers out here do. The “Breadbasket” of Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri with their deeper, dark organic soil and abundant moisture are ideal for cereal grains. It’s not quite that great here in the foothills of the Rockies.
But, a rain like we just had makes it much more palatable.
Gary was right, a good rain evens things out.
You can get good uniformity with a pivot, and if you’re skilled, you can flood irrigate with pipe or canvas and come pretty close, but there will always be spots where the water doesn’t hit evenly. Rain will get all those difficult spots saturated and, in a few weeks, you’ll have a uniform green carpet.
As politicians like to say, “An even tide lifts all boats,” (yes, I think it’s lame too knowing how their friends and donors get a lot more of the tide than we do) the inverse of rain falling on us all is true as well.
Matthew 5:45, from the Sermon on the Mount, comes to mind when thinking of the uniformity of an approaching storm and the subsequent rainfall.
“He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and the unjust.”
Just or not, we should all be thankful for the rain.
It’s even better if there is a little thunder and lightning added to the mix.
As you may or may not remember from freshman earth science, the nitrogen cycle is an integral part of the ebb and flow of life. Thunderstorms bring nitrogen-rich water to the earth.
The water we use out of the Wind River or that is pumped from wells beneath your property is good for crops unless it is high in dissolved solids, or may have a little petrochemical in it, but it can’t compare to the greening effect of rain arriving during a thunderstorm. It is Miracle Grow from the sky, and it’s free.
Yes, I get excited about summer rains, heavy springs snowstorms, and periods without that persistent howling wind out of the north, west, and northwest.
We had a million-dollar gift from the sky last week.
My ag buddies will begin complaining again soon enough, and I already heard one mention that all this rain would turn his alfalfa yellow if the sun didn’t come out soon.
Oh well, you have the right to whine but smile when you do it.