After yet another day of rain in June, I stood outside my farm’s lambing barn and listened to the roar of water.
The sound was jarring. The first time it happened, we had finished construction on the barn, in spring of 2018. The excavator had dug out contouring and drainage around the new building, and was astounded at the amount of water pouring out of the hillside. He had never seen anything like it, he told us.
That day, it raced past us in a raging torrent, carving a path down to what had been a small creek.
I’ve seen the numbers. The rain is historic. But it’s not hard to see it with my own eyes, too.
It seems to be a new normal for us though — in the past few years, scores of new springs have popped out of the hillsides. Our property was strip-mined decades ago, leaving behind sand and clay and little top soil. The grazing patterns of sheep have helped improve pastures, but it has taken a long time.
When it rains, it seems like Scotland. When it’s dry, it quickly becomes desert. Lately, it’s more the former, rather than the latter.
With each new rain drop that has fallen, the saturated ground has spit it back out in new ways. One day, dry ground. The next, a swamp, or slow seep of water that has nowhere else to go. We have owned our sheep farm for decades. Only in the past few years have these springs appeared.
Our farm’s situation is not as dire as others. We don’t have the same struggles as most grain farmers or any farmer in western Ohio, and further into the Midwest. In fact, I have friends in other parts of the country who would give anything to have steady rainfall.
Our biggest problem is that we may not have enough sheep. With near constant rain, 325 ewes can’t keep up with the forage growth on 150 acres of pasture, even with the management we do. We couldn’t get into some fields to mow before the end of June. We took our first hay off June 29. Some areas, where we used to drive our tractor and four-wheeler safely, are impassable now.
As I write this, we are discussing buying corn now for our grain-mixed feeder lamb rations, because prices will keep climbing. We are also looking at the weather and our uncut fields — and wondering how much hay we’ll have to buy, and for how much. The weather may cooperate, or it may not.
It is all interwoven. In this issue’s overview of how the past year’s rainfall has impacted so many industries, we drew lines between how this connects with that.
Without bees, honey production suffers. But, also, fruit trees and bushes and tomato plants don’t get pollinated.
With the advent of high corn and soybean prices eight or nine years ago, many acres were converted from hay to grain, according to one crop expert. Now, we face a hay shortage. The acres still in production may not yield as much because of a rough winter.
This affects dairy farmers. Already faced with tough times, they were pushing planting instead of taking prevent plant payments, just to get feed for their cows. Other livestock are also feeling the crunch. The trickle-down is real.
It won’t be long before we feel that pinch in other ways, as the limited supply struggles reach the grocery store shelves or feed mills.
In reporting for the rain story, I spoke with Steve Hirzel, president of Hirzel Canning Co., that produces the Dei Fratelli line of products.
Sometimes, the perfect tomato isn’t always available. While his company works to create a smooth production line, it’s an issue this year, especially.
It is all interwoven, this experience of growing food and enjoying it. Let’s remember that as we continue to navigate this soggy situation.
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