Fickle summer weather a frustration for farmers

Mid-South summers graphically demonstrate the separation of haves and have-nots. Perhaps no one knows better the fickleness of crop-season weather than the farmer, who can watch a meandering thunderstorm soak a neighbor's field a half-mile away, while leaving his parched as the Gobi desert.

Irrigation is something of a leveler, but it costs money. There's nothing like a free rain, at just the right time, in the right amount, to pep up the crops and the farmer's spirits.

In the arid West, where farmers know there won't be so much as a sprinkle during the summer growing season, irrigation scheduling's pretty cut and dried. Here, though, it's always a dance around the vagaries of weather — and every year's different than the one before.

One of the blessings of the curse of a built-in alarm clock that insists on awakening me well before Mr. Sun even thinks of rising, is that it gives the opportunity for a lot of sights slugabed folks miss out on. Most farmers are early risers and can relate.

On a recent Saturday, I'd finished my morning walk well before 5:00, and by the time night's shadows were giving way to cloudy, overcast day, I was in the car for a jaunt to Grenada, Miss., for the annual meeting of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corporation.

From Clarksdale south for 15 miles or so, fields were bone dry; several sprinkler systems were running. Cotton ranged all the way from barely a foot high to knee-high. From Webb across to Charleston, fields were wet from rains the previous couple of days. Everything looked great, particularly corn and soybeans, which benefited from all the spring rains that kept cotton farmers gnashing their teeth trying to get a crop up and growing.

Nearing Charleston, with the eastern, kudzu-covered hill line looming on the horizon, a huge red ball of sun broke through a hole in the murk, bathing the lush, green fields in a golden glow, sending rays into the clouds reminiscent of an old masters painting.

Near the turn-off to Holcomb, everything became enveloped in pea soup fog, creating ghostly shapes of the kudzu-enshrouded trees and telephone poles. The fog lasted until I got into Grenada's hills, which were still soaked from a rainstorm during the night.

By the time the meeting started, the sky had cleared and the sun was shining brightly, with heat and humidity that would wilt a steel beam.

Returning home in the early afternoon, I ran into brief showers here and there. Not in the Clarksdale area, though. Bone dry. A couple of nights later, when major thunderstorms were raking the entire north Mississippi area, Clarksdale was at the center of a tempest of thunder and lightning that went on until the wee hours. But not a single drop of rain. Many surrounding areas were soaked.

“The rain falls alike upon the just and the upon the unjust,” wrote Horatio Alger. Perhaps. But Mid-South farmers can well attest that summer rains do not fall alike on their crops.

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