SMITH COLUMN: Crops and Mother Nature

Published 10:30 am Saturday, March 25, 2023

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The recent cold snap left this one-time farm boy emotionally bothered, and depressed. It was again a reminder how fickle Mother Nature can be, smiling so encouragingly one day and frowning with unadulterated contempt the next.

When blooms come early and bring about unseasonably warm weather, teasing us and ushering us into the throes of ecstasy, we don’t understand the about face which slams us into emotional convulsions and regret.

While reports of the damage from the plummeting temperatures in the last fortnight don’t seem to be devastating, one realizes that this business of farming and agriculture will always be threatened by climatic conditions.

Too much rain during the planting season is a worry. Dry conditions will always cause those in agriculture to fret. You get through the growing season and then you must worry about dastardly forces such as insects and hailstorms.

Back on the farm in Middle Georgia, I can remember a small radio which sounded forth with more static than music and news, my hard working father listened intently in early morning to the weather forecast.

There was a syndicated weather report out of Memphis which really didn’t tell him all that much — certainly nothing like the sophisticated weather reports that are available to us today. But it was important to him to learn as much as he could about the forthcoming weather.

With the Memphis weatherman, his reports were given the highest priority to professionals other than farmers and those connected with agriculture.

Gen. Robert Neyland, the astute football coach at the University of Tennessee, tuned in as regularly as farmers across the South did. He made his practice plans based on weather advisories. He was keenly interested in long range forecasts which predicted weather for fall Saturdays. 

In Neyland’s era, games were low scoring to begin with. A rainy forecast for Saturday meant that he would be kicking on third down quite often and playing defense. Let the soggy conditions slow the opposing offense and force mistakes.  A wet football obviously brings about a greater propensity for fumbling.

While farmers are always praying for rain, there is nothing more frustrating when after an abundance of rain, you hear the comment, “too wet to plow.”  

One of the great pleasures in traveling our state is to refrain from driving the Interstate highways and take the country roads. While farming has become big business today, there remain many small farming operations.

You see those imposing green John Deere tractors with the big, yellow wheels and nostalgia sets in. I can remember when my father transitioned from mules to a John Deere MT. There would be more efficiency in our operation.  He wouldn’t be too tired to sleep at night.

Mules wear out too. Not sure what the life expectancy of a mule was back then but it was obvious that a tractor’s longevity was far greater. There was another benefit with buying a John Deere tractor for farm boys. The dealer gave each John Deere purchaser a model tractor which was one of the greatest of toys.

By that time, I was too old for such toys, but it was a godsend for my younger brother who created his own farm in the backyard, spending countless hours playing with his miniature John Deere tractor. On his farm, he never had to worry about untimely freezes, droughts, gulley washers or boll weevils.

For most farmers today, everything is so mechanized and efficient that with a little luck with the weather, they can make a good living. The local weather announcer can update you to the minute about climatic conditions.

We all keep an eye on the weather, but we conveniently ignore the statistics about global warming and the environment. We should listen up to what scientists are saying. Someday we may find a greater threat to agriculture than boll weevils, droughts and hailstorms.