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Monday, July 16, 2012

The weather is great. If you're in the construction business

Once again, I find myself sounding like a farmer. I have 15 acres of "hay" that's under duress from the lack of moisture.  I was looking at my old posts and it was just about one year ago that I was lamenting how wet it was.  The field had spots with standing water.  The corral had evolved into an ankle deep mucky mess.  Water was flowing into my basement through the foundation and back out into a southern pasture through a gray water discharge pipe. I was feeling reasonably smart at that point for selecting an alfalfa variety designed to withstand wetter than average conditions.  That gloating would end a few weeks later as the rains dried up and the field turned into a weed infested mess.

This year I replanted parts of the field due to the prior year's crop failure. It was going along pretty well and then, once again, the rain stopped and has stayed stopped.  What rain we got seems to have run of or evaporated before soaking into the hard packed ground.  We got a mixed bag of production from the 15 acres which aggregated to 16 large rounds and 200 small squares of "hay" that looks more like straw than hay.  At this point I'm skeptical that we'll get a second cut unless we get some cooler weather and more moisture.  Also, at this point, survival of what was planted this year is at risk. 

Getting that first cut up was a mess.  It seemed as if Murphy's Law was making things that were going wrong going even more wrong. It made me wonder if Murphy had a twin brother that showed up to help him in special situations like mine. 

I'd deferred cutting during in ideal conditions because I wanted square bales and the guy that was going to do it for me had another week left of berry production on his farm that he had to deal with.  Of course, the next two weeks were cluttered with much need rains that prevented cutting but was barely enough to nourish the crops. Eventually my baling guy came over.  By then the alfalfa had been fully bloomed a couple of weeks and the oats in parts of the field had gone beyond milk stage to fully mature oats. That's not what I wanted, but there was still some good oat hay remaining.

My friend couldn't get to us to cut the hay so I asked another farmer if they could cut it.  They could and did.  In that same phone call I found out that latter farmer is also doing small squares and they have some very new and very expensive hay equipment.  "New" + "Expensive" = "Reliable."

I asked the neighbor farmer to do the north 1/2 of my field in round bales.  My friend would do the south 1/2 in small squares. 

The hay was supposed to be cut on that particular Sunday or Monday.  It didn't get cut until Tuesday. My neighbor got it raked on Wednesday and it was ready to bale on Thursday.  The north 1/2 was baled in no time on Thursday afternoon  The small square baler showed up Thursday evening.  Keep in mind we were then dealing with temps in the high 90 degree range with heat indexes well over 100 degrees.  Nonetheless, baling commenced.   We got 26 bales into baling when the baler broke down.    After a couple of hours of messing around with the baler, trying to get it working, we finally gave up.  I called my farmer neighbors and asked if they could finish the field in large rounds.  I preferred that to it getting wet.  They said they'd be there the following morning (Friday).

On Friday morning I woke up to damp sidewalks.  I figured it hadn't rained much and that my hay would get baled that afternoon.  It didn't.  It rained that night about 1/2 inch.  Being the conflicted farmer, I was thrilled for the moisture for the field to spur new growth, but I was disappointed that my hay on the ground had gotten wet.

I called my friend and he agreed to come over and rake it to help in dry out.  He raked it, but I was out in the field the next day checking to see if was drying and found that he'd only raked about mid way through the rows. The bottoms of the wind rows never got turned and they were still soaked.  My friend came back with his rake and set it lower and turned the rows again.

The next day my farmer neighbors, unbeknownst to me, came over with their wheel rake and raked the field again.  That combined a couple of wind rows into one row making them much bigger rows.  Meanwhile, my friend called to tell me his baler was fixed and did I want him to come over to finish baling.  By now we're into Monday and we're still dealing with sweltering conditions.  He came over and we got about 175 bales up.  That was a huge accomplishment because we broke a couple of shear bolts because the rows were too big for his baler.  We'd make progress and either a bolt would break or the baler would clog up.  As dusk was setting in and I was bordering on heat stroke, feeling shaky and nauseous, we called it quits.  The plan to was to resume baling on the following Thursday. 

I got a call on Thursday asking if we could resume baling on Friday.  I agreed.  It was still extremely hot and there was no rain in the forecast.

On Friday I learned that my friend's tractor was broken down. I called my farmer neighbors to see if they could finish the field.  They said "sure," but they couldn't get to it until the following Monday afternoon.  They were in IN for a wedding and wouldn't be back until then.  I said that they were my best option and Monday would be find.  I then commenced praying for no rain.  At that point, the only real threat was isolation, pop up type storms.  It didn't rain then and hasn't since.

On Sunday I got a call from my friend. He said his tractor was fixed and would I like him to come over on Monday to bale the hay.  I told him "no way."  I was heading out on Tuesday for a trip to the east coast and I had other errands and chores to deal with on Monday.  I found out later that his tractor had broken down yet again doing his own hay.  My neighbors showed up on Monday as planned and completed baling, with nary of drop of sweat off my brow, in about an hour.  The first cut was done, three weeks and two rainfalls after being cut. 

I've asked my neighbors to do my second cut.  Perhaps I'll be fortunate and there will be a second cut. If not, I'll be like a lot of other farmers and consider the year another "bust."

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