Waiting on the weather…

An early evening storm rolled along Highway 16. The heat of the +33 Celcius day dissipated as a much-needed rain began to fall. A rainbow arched across the sky ahead of me, beckoning me home from my road trip to a nearby town.

As I turned on the windshield wipers, I let hope slip in for the ride. Maybe, just maybe, the storm would reach our farm. But the closer I got to home, the lighter the rain became. The showy rainbow held out, but only a mere 3 millimeters* of precipitation fell. We needed 10–15 times that much. Crops suffering from lack of moisture, dry pastures and haylands in our area, would get no relief that night.

And unfortunately, not much in the weeks since. The heat is intense, temperatures about 10 degrees above normal. It feels like August, yet it is only the end of June.

We are still waiting on the weather, longing and hoping for a significant rainfall. We’re not saying the ‘D’ word (drought) out loud yet, but it’s in the back of our minds.

Last year was tough. Rains were spotty and more often than not, they missed our farm. It was a long, hot, dry, dusty summer. Harvest was discouraging with below-average yields. There were no celebratory moments. It was a year of trudging through, filled with worry, concern and disappointment. When the rains finally came in the midst of harvest, there was a bit of relief — at least soil moisture was building for next year.

Now here we are, looking at a seemingly carbon-copy of last year — possibly worse. It’s difficult to remain positive and hopeful for the growing season ahead.

As a result, I find myself reluctant to share our farming story. Even writing, which usually flows easily for me, has become a challenge. I want to be open and transparent, to convey an understanding of what we do and the crops we grow. But right now, concern outweighs good news. There is no joy in photographing crops that aren’t lush and healthy. And how do you talk about tough times without sounding like you’re complaining? After all, this is our chosen field of work.

A friend gently reminded me, as I was deflecting worry and not doing a good job at trying to be upbeat, it is perfectly normal to be concerned about your livelihood. Farming isn’t easy. Being authentic means being honest about tough times as well. Even if it makes us feel vulnerable.

So truth be told, the worry and weight of farming last year, and again now, is a tough slog. Watching the sky, chasing rainbows and counting raindrops takes an emotional toll. For me, gratitude is a daily practice. I strive to find the beauty in every day and share optomistic, encouraging moments. But even the most positive attitude can’t shift the weather. And as much as I try to push worry away, it still sits on my shoulders, jostling for position with hope.

The weather always determines the outcome, and our income. Every. Single. Year. You would think, after 30 years of farmlife, I’d be used to it. But that 100% reliance on Mother Nature is the most difficult reality of farming.

I’m not sharing this for sympathy, but rather empathy and understanding — for farmers everywhere. Imagine if the weather determined your paycheck. You work the equal amount of time every year, your living costs remain the same, or may even go up, but if it rains too much or too little, your take-home pay is cut — perhaps by 25% – 50%, or possibly more.

So if farmers appear to be obsessing or complaining about the weather, it’s because that connection ultimately decides the results of their labours — even when they’ve done everything within their control, to the best of their ability.

Lack of rain is causing stress and anxiety in our area of the prairies. Eastern Canada has struggled with excessive rains and flooding, wreaking havoc with planting. Cutting hay for livestock feed has been extremely challenging. The excitement and optimism a new growing season generally brings has been dashed for many.

So if you know a farmer, reach out – ask how they are really doing. Listen to concerns. Get together for a coffee, a meal, a movie. It won’t change the reality of too little or too much rain, but it always makes a difference knowing someone else cares. Often simply sharing our worries out loud, lightens the emotional load.

As for me, you’ll still see those positive posts and gorgeous prairie sunsets, but I’ll strive to be more open about the difficulties and disappointments as well. For now, it’s still eyes to the sky, waiting on the weather and a desperately-needed rain.

 

 


*Millimeter to inch conversion:    25 mm = 1 inch

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Not as strong as I think I am

Originally published in the Manitoba Co-operator August 2, 2018


I thought I was doing fine. Not too worried or concerned. I kept telling myself, it would all work out, and if it didn’t we’d be okay.

We’ve always had a crop. We would this year too. It wouldn’t be a bumper crop. Not even an average one, but after being married to a farmer for 29 years, I knew the risks. Only two years ago, we’d struggled with the reverse — three months of excessive rain. Weather challenges are not a shock nor surprise. Disappointing, yes, but I know worrying doesn’t change it, or help me in any way.

So I tucked my worries away, concerned for the pressure my farmer was feeling, but confident I was dealing well with the lack of rain. I kept busy, focused on other things, took advantages of get-togethers with friends and carried on.

Then on June 29th it rained! Such relief! We woke to 13.4 mm in the rain gauge! The most substantial rainfall we’d had all spring. The crops looked so much better that day.

But I noticed something else. I felt happier, lighter. There was a spring in my step I hadn’t had for a while. I was smiling more. Despite believing I was dealing well with the drought-like conditions, it was still a weight I carried on my shoulders. I wasn’t immune to worry. Damn. Not as strong as I think I am.

I talked to a couple of other farming friends who could relate. It was a reminder to be aware, to look out not only for our farming partners in times of stress, but also to look after ourselves. To talk about what’s going on if we need to, even if we don’t want to be seen as that person complaining about the weather — again, despite those concerns being valid.

The business of producing food has many rewards, but it isn’t easy dealing with the weather-dependent aspect of farming. We can do absolutely everything to the best of our ability but ultimately Mother Nature holds the cards, determines the outcome — and our income. Every. Single. Year. I’m not sure it’s a risk you ever get used to, so finding ways to cope is important.

Building a support system helps. Personally I have friends — farming and non-farming — who truly understand and are always there for me. I met with a counselor last winter whose door is always open any time I need to talk. As well, there are many resources available at Manitoba Farm, Rural and Northern Support Services.

More recently, the Do More Ag Foundation was founded by a group of people passionate about mental health in agriculture. They are not only creating awareness, educating and breaking the stigma, but are also creating a community for people to connect and find the resources they need — national, provincial and territorial — in times of stress and anxiety.

Through their website I discovered there’s even an app for that. Calm in the Storm is a free app, created by mental health professionals in Manitoba, launched in December 2014. The easy to use app and website are designed to reduce, manage, and learn about stress in your life using clinically proven information and strategies. Features include guided audio meditations, tools for assessing your stress with ways to customize and track your experience and even create a personalized safety plan.

A helpful tool for anyone and one I will be exploring as our crops continue to struggle with lack of rain. The recent heat wave has taken its toll on our farm and those around us. Other areas have been hit hard with storms and hail. With farming we rarely get the perfect year, but the extremes are especially challenging. The hold the weather has on our lives and livelihoods can, at times, be tiring.

A friend recently posted a picture of a canola field damaged by hail, stating, “Farmers are proud to share the good stories but suffer silently with the bad ones.” So true. It is much easier to share our successes than our hardships. But the culture is slowly shifting, for the better. There is more openness, increased awareness and many resources available for our mental well-being. No need to suffer silently in times of stress. Strength is being redefined. It no longer means carrying the load on your own.


Links:

Do More Ag – Resources:   www.domore.ag/resources/

Manitoba Farm, Rural and Northern Support Services:    www.supportline.ca

Calm in the Storm:    www.calminthestormapp.com