Extreme Temperatures, Withering Crops, High Water Bills: What's a Farmer to Do?

Green pasture shown here in June has given way to dry, dormant grass in July.

Green pasture shown here in June has given way to dry, dormant grass in July. by Jen Humphrey

Memory is inherently faulty. The brain distills experience down to the high and low points and is constantly rewriting the tale. Such is the case with the weather, which has me thinking that this is the most extreme summer I can remember -- I recall no year as hot, dry and dusty. But that's what scientists are for: they keep track of how many 100 degree days there have been so far (10 and counting!), while I am left to wonder if farming makes me more aware of the heat than I used to be.

Your lawn may be crunchy, but out in the farm fields of southern Douglas County we're going from crunchy to dusty. In this oppressive heat, everything is slowing down. We are all waiting for a change in circumstance. The goats find less to eat in the field and opt to lounge in the shade with the hay. The vegetables that we do water shut down, too, and won't flower or fruit when it's this hot. You may remember last year that after it finally cooled down, many farmers had abundant tomatoes for the first time in September, instead of in July and August. We may see something similar this year.

Farmers that irrigate on a small scale, like I do, try to balance the cost of using county/city water against the cost of bringing fewer kinds of produce to market. I am mindful that we may not always have the water we rely on in the Great Plains. The cover article of the July Harper's says the mighty Ogallala Aquifer will be gone in 30 years.

In an article today, the LJW said that every month of 2012 has been above average in temperature. At some point, if it continues to be above average, the old average ceases to be meaningful. Our new normal takes its place.

On July 10, KU's Nathaniel Brunsell, associate professor of geography and atmospheric science, will be at Free State Brewing on Mass to talk about extreme weather, how extreme is defined, and what the impact of such weather may be on agricultural, as well as urban, environments.

If I learn from Nate that this really is the most extreme heat wave Kansas has seen in decades, I will know that my memory isn't so far off.

I hope that despite the heat, you'll still support your local (hot and dusty) farmer by stopping by one of Lawrence's farmer's markets. It's true whether you're a farmer or a Kansan or both - we're always willing to talk about the weather.

Tagged: farming, drought, Ogallala, goats, climate change


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