Canadian poet and novelist Brian Brett said, “Farming is a profession of hope.”
Anyone who makes their living through agriculture will tell you that is true. The farmer can do everything right, but if, for example, it does not rain enough or rains too much, their livelihood is in jeopardy.
And that is the predicament many West Virginia farmers find themselves in today.
The hardest hit areas are the tip of the state’s eastern panhandle, north central and northern panhandle counties, and the mid-Ohio River Valley.
“Last summer we had a drought and it affected the whole state,” said State Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt. “This seems to be more regionalized this year.” He predicts those regions will be designated as drought areas if it does not rain soon.
The dry weather is impacting more than just the grain crops. Leonhardt reports cattle farmers thinning their herds now because they do not have enough pasture and they do not want to start feeding hay now and then not have enough for the winter.
He is encouraging struggling farmers to investigate state and federal drought relief assistance. “We have programs with the state conservation agency that can help,” he said.
Farmers, along with being hard workers, must also be gamblers at heart. “They have uncertainty in the markets and uncertainty in the weather,” Leonhardt said. “Farmers really do face a lot of uncertainty and there’s nothing anybody can do to control it.”
My brother, Nick, is a corn and soybean farmer in Jefferson County, and like all farmers there he is suffering through a dry growing season.
“We’ve had four-and-a-half to five inches (of rain) total since the middle of May, which puts us three-and-a-half to four inches less than normal,” he said. “We have not had significant rain since June 26th when there was a half inch.” Parts of the area did get a little rain yesterday.
Without rain, his 400 acres of corn will produce a fraction of the normal yield. “If we don’t see rain this week, and with the high temperatures, we could be hovering in that 50 to 75 percent loss area, and beyond that it just gets worse.”
But farmers are a resilient bunch. They must be. “You always know in the back of your mind that this can happen, and it does happen, so you are rolling the dice every year.”
“You can’t control it,” Nick said. “You just have to hope for year next year or more rain this year.
There is that word “hope” again, which every good farmer clings to as they head out early on another hot, dry day.