On May 5, I took a picture of one of the ponds in our pasture. The water level was so low that there was close to 10 feet of brown pond bottom visible between the water and grassy banks. Despite the warm weather, we had not yet let the cows out to pasture; it was so dry, there was no grass growing. We also hadn't yet planted any corn; our thinking was that it didn't make sense to plant anything until it rained. Soil moisture was nearly non-existent, so the seeds would just sit there until it rained anyway.
In the eight years we've lived here, we've never experienced a spring as dry as this past one was. The forecast showed rain countless times, but the forecasts never held true.
Finally, on May 10, it rained. Then it rained again and all thoughts of a droughty summer were erased. The pasture greened up and we turned the cows out on May 13. We planted our corn and watched the seedlings emerge a couple days later. The new seeding of alfalfa, with it's cover crop of triticale and field peas, blanketed the fields like a lush green carpet. Our existing stand of alfalfa, which we had planned to take a cutting off and then no-till corn into, yielded so well that we left it in alfalfa.
With those first rains, it was like someone had flipped a switch, because after that, we got generous rains here almost weekly until September. And with that rain came more of the sunshine and warm weather that had arrived with spring.
The results of those timely rains and balmy weather were incredible. The cows had so much trouble keeping up with the pasture that we were able to cut and bale a large section of it. Usually the pasture dries up in late July or August, but this year it didn't. Which means that, even now, the cows are still enjoying fresh, green grass.
The corn grew and grew and grew. I have never walked into a corn field and had to reach over my head to pick an ear...until this year.
Normally, by the time harvest rolls around, you can see exactly where the sand veins run through our fields, because the corn there hasn't kept up with the corn on heavier soils. Not this year. Our corn fields were uniformly green throughout.
I explained in a column this spring how we plant our corn: several varieties in each field, which helps us ensure a quality crop and uniform silage, even if one variety underperforms. Every year since we started using this method, we could clearly see the varietal differences between rows. Specifically, it was easy to see which varieties handled drought stress and which ones didn't. Not this year. Basically, this summer's growing conditions allowed corn to reach its full genetic potential.
These results were verified by the yield monitor on the chopper. We finished chopping our corn last Friday and couldn't be more pleased with the results. We easily doubled our tonnage from last year. Sections of fields where the yield monitor often flashed yellow or red in the past (especially last year) stayed green or occasionally dipped to orange.
My dad helped us chop again this year and asked, not in jest, if we could put a light on top of the chopper so that it was easier to find in the jungle-like corn fields.
I got to ride along in the chopper for the first time this year. The neighbors who do our custom chopping have a six-row chopper. It was incredible to watch the chopper gobble up the corn as we mowed down the rows. But, I have to admit, I might have freaked out a little each time the chopper turned out of the rows to loop around and unhook the silage box. It was like diving into a sea of solid green. I'd much prefer to see where I'm going - particularly when riding in a massive hunk of machinery.
It will be interesting to see how this silage tests, though, because most of the yield came from the abundance of plant material, not from the cobs. This year's cobs were only average in size. They were well pollinated, but they didn't fill out as much as expected.
Our alfalfa and triticale/pea yields were equally wonderful. All of the rain made it challenging it put up dry hay, but we like feeding baleage, so we can't complain too much.
It is such a relief to finish the crop year knowing that we have enough feed for the cows to make it through until next fall.
The best part, though, is that everyone's crops looked spectacular - at least in this area. The rain wasn't spotty like some years and we managed to avoid any major hail. I think all of our collective prayers for rain in past summers were changed to prayers for no hail.
The worst part, though, is that we'll probably never see another summer as incredible as this one.
Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 75 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have three children - Dan, 8, Monika, 6, and Daphne, 2. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at gsfrericks@meltel.net.