Those 6 inches

“Man – despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication and his many accomplishments – owes his existence to a 6-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.”
This is a quote I’m sure you’ve seen or heard by Paul Harvey who was famous for telling us the rest of story.
Even if you’re too young to have heard his radio broadcasts, you’ve undoubtedly heard his speech at an FFA gathering in 1978 entitled, “So God Made a Farmer.” If you haven’t heard that speech, look it up. It’s worth the read, because, much like that quote, it sums up agriculture and those who choose to take on the occupation of growing food well.
Despite my last article talking about the inevitability of rain falling on that 6-inch layer of soil as soon as we start cutting hay, very little has fallen on our farm since before first crop hay. Thankfully, this isn’t a widespread drought like last year which resulted in crop failures in much of northwestern Minnesota and the Dakotas. Even our rented pasture land 15 minutes from home has gotten enough moisture to keep growing, if not well, at least sufficiently to keep the cattle fed there without having to truck some home. Somehow, we’ve gotten into a pattern of storms either breaking up before they get to us or splitting and raining all around us. I’m glad I bought a fair amount of hay last year anticipating a possible dry summer again this year seeing how much moisture was being pulled out of the previously waterlogged soil last summer.
We’re going to start cutting second crop hay as soon as we enjoy some Fourth of July parties and take a day to wander a state park with the kids. Time to get the equipment back out of the sheds. It seems I just parked it after an extended first crop thanks to buying standing hay from other farmers to put up for the dry cows and heifers after we finished all of ours up. As my wife, Emily, likes to say, it seems like I spend all summer doing hay. With the limited rainfall we’ve received, this crop won’t take very long to put up. Our hay fields are a mix of grasses and legumes, mainly alfalfa but some red clover, too, because we mostly do haylage. I’m not worried about drying time. Research I’ve read shows the proteins in clover are broken down differently than alfalfa making a better ration for grass-fed dairy cows. Grasses and red clover like a lot more rain than the alfalfa, so there’s quite a bit less tonnage out there than there should be for second crop. We’ve also chosen to put up a temporary fence around 36 acres of hay to graze so we don’t overgraze our permanent pastures that are waiting on rain to get them growing again.
This morning, we received around one-half inch of rain. Hopefully that will get the shallow rooted grasses in the pastures to come out of dormancy, and we will continue to get some timely rains. Perhaps cutting second crop will attract a shower or two. Need to keep that cow chow growing so we can keep producing high-quality milk to feed all those people who owe their cool glass of milk with their strawberry pie to that 6 inches of topsoil and the rain I wish was falling a bit more often right now.  
Until next time, don’t forget to enjoy some of those summer delicacies that grow thanks to the soil we steward and rain that falls. It’s wild raspberry season so check out those patches on the edges of the fields and in every fence line.
Tim Zweber farms with his wife Emily, their three children and his parents Jon and Lisa by Elko, Minnesota.


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