The late Erma Bombeck wrote a book entitled “The Grass Is Always Greener Over The Septic Tank” and in years past that may have been true, but not this year in our state. At my house that was the first place in the yard that went brown and even the field lines have not yielded enough moisture for grass tall enough to keep mowed. It has been hot and dry, but as rains have made a return to our Tennessee fields, hopes have once again materialized for maybe some pastures saved, as well as some late crops.
In her book, Bombeck said, “It was either Thomas Jefferson ““ or maybe it was John Wayne ““ who once said, ‘Your foot will never get well as long as there is a horse standing on it.’ ” Many farmers who planted this past spring understand that quote a lot more than many of us. With losses of corn and hay crops between 50 and 100 percent and farm loans needing to be paid at harvest time, they feel like a Clydesdale is standing on both their feet.
Last year, in the fall, many of the hay fields in this state were re-sowed with a good blend of grasses, along with a lot of money invested to do so, as is a normal practice each year. Tennessee is a major producer of hay, and in 2011, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture reported that Tennessee farmers produced an estimated 3.9 million tons of hay valued at more than $332 million. This year, when the early spring warm weather came, the grass grew and the hopes for a great hay year looked very promising. However, the first cutting of hay was not what had been expected and farmers were looking to the second cutting to help fill the void.
Even with continued rain, there will not be second cuttings on many farms in the severe drought area due to the new grasses dying and being replaced with milkweed, as well as other weeds. Most fields will once again have to have another reseeding this fall to even add more expense to the bottom line. Many local Coops are having calls from farmers to reserve their no-till planters, to drill late season hay crops into their fields, hoping for another cutting of hay.
Tennessee is also a major livestock producing state with approximately one million head of beef cattle needing pasture. The state’s livestock industry puts over $1.3 billion annually into the state’s economy, and without needed pasture to help take care of these cattle, farmers are having to feed hay from their barns intended to have been used for this coming winter’s feeding needs. If rains continue, pastures may improve enough to slow this process. As of now, there have not been runs on livestock markets with farmers selling cattle and reports from most markets are they are seeing the usual number of cattle at this time of the year. If rains continue to come and we can avoid extreme temperatures for a while, the outlook may not be as grim as many first thought.
Most of the state is still in a severe drought condition and many utility districts have placed restrictions on water usage. Farm ponds are still low, if not dry, and a lot more rain will need to come. The Tennessee Farm Bureau, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and the University of Tennessee Extension each have websites providing information and resources to help during this time. Each website is linked to the other and you may find the Tennessee Hay Directory there if you are looking to buy hay or sell some as well. Those sites are: www.tnfarmbureau.org, www.tn.gov/agriculture, and https://utextension.tennessee.edu/drought/.
The farming community has seen many disasters and each time aid comes from many areas. When the “horse is on your foot” you have to get it off to get well. USDA has announced new rules to streamline the process for getting Secretarial designations of natural disasters for counties and it looks like 13 primary counties and 11 contiguous counties in Northwest Tennessee will automatically be eligible for federal farm assistance. Others will be added in the coming weeks if weather conditions do not change and crop conditions do not improve. USDA has also announced reduced interest rates for emergency loans and reduced penalties for haying and grazing on CRP lands. The 13 primary counties designated are: Benton, Carroll, Crockett, Dyer, Gibson, Henry, Houston, Humphreys, Lake, Montgomery, Obion, Stewart, and Weakley. The 11 contiguous counties are: Cheatham, Decatur, Dickson, Haywood, Henderson, Hickman, Lauderdale, Madison, Perry, Robertson, and Tipton. For more information go to the USDA website at: http://content.govdelivery.com/bulletins/gd/USDAOC-48f2cd.
Hopefully, the grass will green up over more areas than just the septic tank in coming weeks. If not, there will be more “horses standing on feet.”
– Pettus L. Read may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com