Wet Today, Dry Tomorrow

The chaos and unexpected extremes have become a familiar normal for most anyone who spends days outside in the forests or the fields

By Mike Jopek

Winter didn’t disappoint. It was colder and snowier than most in recent memory. The return of sunshine has been most welcome. Locals are outside, up on the hills, enjoying the last of this season’s springtime snow.

Hopefully we’ll get through spring in the Flathead without much flooding.

Other places across the nation have also taken a pounding from big weather. A farmer in Nebraska posted a video on Twitter of 50 acres of up to 3-feet-thick ice chunks in his field from the sudden flooding that froze in place.

Farms Missouri and Iowa also faced big water in the past weeks. Let’s hope our snowmelt is slow enough to avoid those kinds of disasters.

Over 60 years ago the Army Corps of Engineers built a dam on the border of South Dakota and Nebraska. The Gavins Point Project was a nearly two-mile wide embankment rolled-earth and chalk-filled dam, which holds a lot of water in Lewis and Clark Lake.

The dam is no longer strong enough to hold back the chaos of water flowing from places like Montana and Wyoming.

Last week the heavy rains added to complications as the Missouri River was well over nine feet above flood stage in places. Severe flooding, like eight years prior, was expected.

Wet weather and mud season is clearly on my mind, as a new growing season gets moving in Whitefish.

We’ve been doing this work for nearly three decades and each year brings fresh weather complications and peril to farm work. Commodity and livestock farmers get access to decent crop and disaster insurance, that’s heavily subsidized by taxpayers via the Farm Bill.

Many small farms like ours are on our own. The weather, productivity, and local customers dictate our fortune. Congress won’t save us from big weather.

But aside from the risks of big weather, the sudden sunshine made select seeding possible. It was just too cold in February and half of March to get going. With a little luck, the ground will be tillable in April to get the onions planted.

It’s the time of year when a lot is happening on the farm. The seeds need propagating and the hoop house needs fixing. Mother Nature has her schedule. We try and adapt as best as we can.

A couple weeks ago the first robin of 2019 perched in the lodgepole pine and chirped its arrival. Soon the gangs that have stolen so many worms over the decades are likely to reappear.

They watch from the trees across the street, patiently waiting for some ground to be turned and worms to appear. They prefer it when we use the tractor to furrow the ground. In many areas of the farm we’ve switched to hand tools like broadforks. The robins seemed upset at the loss of easy meals.

Daytime temperatures were expected to hit the upper 50s last week and suddenly we’re feeling behind in our farm duties. It’s hard to farm when the temperatures fluctuate from 20 degrees below zero to 60 above in the same month.

I wore the year’s first T-shirt outdoors, along with shades and a billed cap. It was an outstanding feeling to be outside in two feet of snow, working and sweating.

Unlike the days past, when our nation found bipartisan solutions to the ozone hole in the atmosphere and acidic rains falling onto eastern states, today’s ugly politics make progress seem unlikely.

Hardheaded people are still arguing about the effects of big weather. Indoors, we turn up the air conditioner and shovel more firewood into the wood stove. The chaos and unexpected extremes have become a familiar normal for most anyone who spends days outside in the forests or the fields.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.