I was sitting in Barry Evans’ office last week at Evans Grain in Kress, Texas. The weather was awful — a cold rain that occasionally featured flakes of snow, and a wind that felt like it was punching icicles through your torso — miserable weather by most standards.
Barry was smiling. I feared that his face muscles would spasm. Farmers are not accustomed to smiling this much. The man was almost giddy with delight as I sat shivering in his office. I heard the term “million dollar rain” several times that day as moisture poured onto the porous earth.
Playa lakes were full, inhabited by ducks, geese and sandhill cranes. Had Noah been around he’d have been stocking up on timber and rounding up animals. It was wet.
Everywhere I went farmers had these wide, "cat just ate the canary" grins on their faces. They realize that every inch of rain that falls from now through planting time is that much less water they’ll have to pump onto the crops come July and August. It’s that much less electricity or diesel they’ll have to pay to keep those pumps running. And for those with dryland acreage, it means the crops will have an ample reservoir of moisture to get established.
A few noted that every inch of rain means about another 100 pounds of cotton per acre. I suspect they made about a half bale while I talked to Barry.
Earlier in the day I’d ridden from Lubbock to Muncy, Texas, with Shawn Wade, Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., media director, to attend a Texas Alliance for Water Conservation field day. Fortunately, the meeting was inside.
But all morning we could hear rain pounding on the metal roof and the wind whistling around the corners. I got a bit wet walking from Shawn’s truck to the building. Soggy and cold are not two of my favorite sensations, but folks inside, soggy or not, appreciated the noise.
It was bit coincidental, I thought, attending a meeting devoted to discussing ways to conserve water when a deluge was in progress outside. But folks who have farmed or raised livestock in West Texas for more than a year or two understand that every drop of rain that falls is money in the bank.
This rain came on top of several others and two or three snowfalls that have recharged soils that were dry as Texas toast this time last year.
A day later I drove up to Petersburg, Texas, to talk to R.N. and Ronnie Hopper. The rain had stopped overnight, but the country remained overcast and wet. I’ve been to the Hopper farm several times and the weather always seems to be either wet or snowy when I go. Last week a little snow was left in shady spots, but standing water and mud were abundant.
R.N. drove me out to an irrigation system to get a few photos. We slipped and slid over the muddy field roads. I was a bit concerned that we might slide into the deep ditch, but R.N. skillfully maneuvered the truck over the treacherous road. We got the pictures.
And as was the case with Barry Evans, R.N. and his father Ronnie were ecstatic with the rainfall.
As I drove away from the Hopper farm I felt a sense of empathy with West Texas farmers. I can’t fully appreciate what all that rain means to them, having no crops or huge investments in irrigation and farm machinery at stake. But I understand what a good start means to the success of a crop. And they seem to have a good start on 2010, at least with moisture reserves.