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Exceptional Drought: As bad as it gets!

Posted 10/3/2007 10:29pm by Leaf Myczack.

At age 62, I have witnessed a lot of dry, rainfree periods, and even a few droughts that were rather severe. However, this year I learned a new term from the National Weather Service for dry weather. It is called exceptional drought, and this catagory is the next step up from extreme drought. Unfortunately for our farm, we are located in the heart of the exceptional drought area. As if this wasn't bad enough, we also got hit hard by the Easter weekend hard freeze that burned the emergent foliage of our shade and fruit trees to a crisp. For weeks, black leafed trees stood death-like around us. It was an unnerving experience, and the first such experience we had ever witnessed.

The dry weather did not catch us by surprise however. For years we have been observing erratic weather patterns that were become more the norm than the exception. Because we believe that extreme climate change is occurring, we have been taking steps to cushion the effects of extreme weather on our farming operations. This involved the construction of a farm-wide rain water collection system that included the digging of three rainwater storage ponds. Two of those ponds were dug this past March. They were all at full pool after a major rain in early May.

While most of the trees recovered from the hard freeze, the rainfall fell far short of normal. To date we are 13 inches below the normal rainfall amount for the year. In Septemebr, we were fortunate to get brushed by the rain remnants of hurricane Humberto. The two and a half inches we received from that storm refilled our irrigation cisterns, but only slightly raised our pond levels. Long, wide cracks in the ground swallowed up any rainfall that might have created runoff to the ponds.

Our plantings this year have been limited to a few staple crops that could be watered from our cisterns and ponds. Throughout the summer, our planted area grew smaller as we would harvested a crop and not replant. As the soil dried out, it would require more water to maintain growth in the remaining plants being tended. We were constantly revising our watering potential and reserves downward, and shrinking the cultivated footprint of our farm. We are now down to a few small plots.

This drought situation could have been the death knell for our fledgling farm, not just because of the financial impact of having few products to sell, but also due to the stress of being swept along by events beyond our ability to alter. As the drought tightened its' death grip this summer, our family made a firm commitment to be consciously kind to one another, and to not let our frustration and feelings of helplessness undermine our strong family vision.

We are constantly being challenged to stay flexible and available to new ideas and information. This in order to shift and adapt tactics and strategies so as to help our farm survive and emerge downstream, biologically intact. It would appear that the days of old school conventional farming techniques yielding predictable and successful results seems to have slipped away.

-Leaf