It has been a long time since I have posted – one of the reasons is that it is being another very challenging year. This was the third consecutive very wet spring with the most rain and heavy rains I have seen in my 30 years here. When we planted crops in the fields, the heavy rains washed away a lot of the seed. The seed that remained often rotted before it could grow. We planted some of our sorghum and black beans three times – now they are very late. They will need good fall weather to mature.
This kind of weather is particularly difficult for organic farmers. Conventional farmers often no-till their seeds into the ground: they have a custom applicator spray an herbicide on the field and then plant with a no-till drill/planter and it’s done! Organic farmers rely on tillage to destroy weeds or green manure crops in preparation for planting. This means we need the soil to dry out enough to properly till the soil and kill weeds before planting. This year whenever we could work the ground, it usually rained again before we could plant. In that small window, conventional farmers planted their crops. When we finally did plant crops, we often had a heavy deluge – which made for erosion and poor germination. Then we could not get in the field to rotary hoe and cultivate – to control weeds; sometimes, the weeds took over the crops. (I now wish I had taken photos of several of our crop plantings that were so poor that we destroyed them and replanted; at the time, I found it so depressing that I did not remember how helpful photos can be).
During my inspections of organic farms this spring and summer, I met a lot of discouraged organic farmers; a typical attitude was: “For most businesses, 3 bad years in a row means going out of business. This is our third consecutive year of poor crops and the worst one of all – I hope I survive.” Many had to replant crops – extra expense and usually less yields. Weed control was also difficult – it was too wet to get in the field to cultivate. It is humbling to have very weedy fields after having worked hard at weed management.
In general, in our part of the country, the corn crop looks poor, the soybeans look quite good, and there is abundant grass for pasture and hay – although the lack of dry weather has made haying challenging as well. The corn is poor – because of all the rain while it was being planted. Most beans are planted later – when there was slightly less rain and warmer weather.
Further: grain markets are discouraging for organic farmers (conventional farmers seem to be able to get by because they get a lot of government payments). For grain and row crop farmers, soybean prices continue to be good. Some crops (corn, wheat, oats, hay), the prices are low which means that the pressure and urge to plant as many fields to soybeans as possible is very strong. The organic certifiers are constantly reminding farmers that planting soybeans two years in a row is not a good organic rotation practice – and highly discouraged in the organic standards. Farmers, on the other hand, need to plant profitable crops to stay in business (ie. Soybeans). As an inspector, I am in the middle – I get it from both sides and empathize with both. Fortunately, I don’t have to make a decision as to whether they are complying with the organic standards – I report what is happening on the farm.
Now, it has finally dried out; in fact, a week or 2 ago, we wished for a rain – first time this year. And we got it!