Rains and algae
Is there another year-round profession that is more weather dependent than agricultural producers? We have irrigation, but thousands of acres of pasture are hurting. Our farms are on the Angostura Irrigation Project, a 12,000-acre land mass that gets its irrigation water from the reservoir known as Angostura Dam. The Bureau of Reclamation built it, during the later 1940s-early 1950s, primarily for irrigation.
We really need rain here in southwestern South Dakota.
Science has attempted to create rain. I remember in the 1960s when conditions were right clouds were seeded with silver iodide aerosols in attempts to induce rain. Various opinions were expressed on the success because hailstorms seemed to occur soon after seeding. But did the seeding cause the hail or perhaps, did the seeding assist in breaking up larger hail into smaller particles?
Depending on soil type even a couple of tenths of rain can make a road impassable, if it’s gumbo, also known as clay; that heavy ground holds the moisture for days. Sandy soil changes so quickly that a good, solid rain doesn’t usually bother driving and it might delay tilling only for a few hours. For cattlemen a rain can change plans for branding day. Unless the crew is already gathered an unintended consequence can be a lot of leftover food.
Rain is welcome and good, except when everything is already soggy or when the hay has been cut and is waiting to be stacked or baled. However, few farmers would ever say, “I wish it would stop raining.”
It seems that statement could almost be asking for trouble. It might not rain again for months or sometimes years. Even in areas where irrigation is prevalent, rain is the preferred method of moisture and every rain is a miracle. It falls evenly and does more good for the soil than an equivalent amount of irrigation water. Center pivot irrigation systems run a close second to rain in that regard.
In 2015 rains brought quandaries and problems/challenges that are normally unthinkable. Weather officials say we live in an arid region, which means we receive an average annual moisture amount of 13 inches total moisture. That includes snow and anything else. In June 2015, we had rain 21 out of the 30 days culminating in over 9 inches of rain. The main canal from Angostura Dam was filled with irrigation water in preparation for the irrigation season just before the rains started. Even with chemical treatments algae grew in mass quantities. After the rains stopped and it was time to irrigate, the algae got so bad that I, among others, babysat screens and cleaned them every 15 minutes to keep the water running to the pivots.
We couldn’t hay during most of June and that threw off our usual routine. The first cutting of alfalfa was delayed by nearly a month. In August the irrigation and algae still caused problems.
It’s an irrigation season with difficulties I hope to never see repeated.
Peggy can be contacted through email@example.com. ❖