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August 06, 2013 8:17 am

EDITORIAL: Farmers gamble on weather and learn to accept the odds

Written by Tom Lawrence

It happened in an instant, but its impact will be felt for months.

The wind came up around 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 30, and as it did the temperature dropped sharply, from the mid 70s to the high 40s. Gusts of up to 51 mph were recorded, according to the National Weather Service, and within two hours more than half an inch of rain had fallen.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.

The rain and wind swept across the region, and shortly after it started the splash of raindrops was replaced by the pop of hail hitting windows, walls and the ground. The rock-hard crystal balls of ice bounced before settling on the ground to slowly melt.

Now picture that hail, driven by the wind and accompanied by a stinging rain, as it smashes into the thin stems and delicate leaves of crops. Just for a second, realize how much harm that can do.

For many farmers, they have no need to imagine. They can drive out to their fields and see the damage for themselves.

Months of planning and preparation, and long hours of effort and sweat, went into planting and caring for those cops. Much of that was lost due to that storm.

It may have lasted for less than a half hour, but it will have a long-term impact for these growers and the entire Powell Valley, which depends on agriculture to be a driving force in the economy.

Farmer Bill Cox has been working the soil in the Powell Flat for years. Cox estimates between one-third and one-half of his 750 acres of barley was lost.

He had planned to harvest that crop in the next few days. Now, Cox has to make plans for the remainder of this year without the income it would have produced.

It wasn’t just barley. Sunflowers, dry beans and beets were also battered by the storm. The losses will amount to thousands of dollars. All in about 15 minutes or less.

Jim Jarrett of Northwest Agency Insurance in Powell says it’s too early to total the losses. The fields are still being assessed, and some of the damaged crops may bounce back, their yield reduced but not completely gone.

But Jarrett said he has not seen such a damaging storm so close to harvest since 1983 — “that was the last time I saw barley fields so stripped of grain you did not have to get out of your car to look closer,” he said.

Farmers, it’s been said, are the biggest gamblers on the planet. They have no need for cards, dice or lottery tickets — they invest their cash and time into the crops they plant and nurture.

Sometimes, the odds don’t fall their way. Sometimes, a few days before the crops are safely out of the fields, the wind shifts, the temperature drops, and a damaging storm blows through the area.

It’s a rough game, with some harsh rules.

But the farmers who saw their fields ravaged by the storm are still standing. They know what the risks are, and they find the rewards worth the gamble. They will still harvest what they have this summer and fall, and plant their crops again next year.

Because they’re farmers, and that’s what they do.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link August 06, 2013 2:17 pm posted by Salty Dawg

    Grow corn instead of barley,we have enough drunks already and need the gas.

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