The weather here in Wichita and south central Kansas has been eerily perfect for our urban and convertible driving tastes the past few weeks, with gorgeously blue skies and the temperatures in our favorite warm but not too hot mid-80s range, but otherwise it’s been a tough year for the farmers here in the heartland. The winter was bitterly cold and dry around here and brought blizzards to the north, the spring was so extraordinarily wet that the rivers around our Riverside neighborhood threatened to spill over and many of the nearby fields were under several inches or several feet of water during planing season, and now those same fields are too dry to sustain what crops did get planted.
We’ll leave it to the scientists to figure out what role humankind plays in our lately unusual weather, and what can be done about it, but there’s no denying that humankind and its inevitable screwups have aggravated the farmers’ most recent problems. Because of global overproduction commodity prices had been in a years-long decline even before President Donald Trump’s trade war provoked retaliatory tariffs from key foreign markets for America’s soybeans and corn and wheat and cattle and pork and other agricultural products, and lately someone or another has let a crucial irrigation system that previously provided water for 100,000 acres of farmland from Nebraska to Wyoming to break down.
Things have become so bad just north of here that even the city slickers at The New York Times have taken notice, and on Monday they unleashed a tear-jerking account of hard times in the country. One farmer they interviewed outside Gering, Nebraska, even said he’d had to put off the purchase of a much-needed new Ford F-150 pickup truck, which is the stuff of a crying-in-your-beer country-and-western song. Others testified that their crops were dying from dryness even as their neighbors’ fields were still a lake. Farm bankruptcies are up 19 percent over the past year, the biggest increase in a decade, according to the reliable Farm Bureau.
Which is bad news for everybody, even if you’re an urbanite enjoying the dry and moderate weather with your top down and wondering what those farmers ever did for you. The state governments here in the heartland have been struggling to balance their budgets even in the best-ever economy that Trump brags about, and the less than bumper crop harvests in the a couple of months won’t help. People everywhere will notice their grocery bills going up, and the national debt slowly rising, even if the heartland’s share of the gross domestic product is relatively small.
Those farmers and ranchers from Nebraska to Wyoming deserve some sympathy, too. You’ve probably never driven from western Nebraska to Mount Rushmore and the Dakotas and over to Wyoming, as the official Nebraska tourism slogan actually is “Nebraska, It’s Not For Everyone,” and people are few and far between and the scenery is very subtly beautiful, but if so you’ve missed out. The few folks you’ll find along those blue highways are invariably hard-working and friendly and likable sorts, and in its own subtle way their land truly is beautiful, and when the idiocies of nature and humankind conspire against them they deserve the full attention of the nation they have been such an essential part of.
Nobody, including our own brilliant selves, knows what to suggest. The recent weird weather might well be caused by to a significant extent by anthropological activities, as an apparent majority of climate scientists insist, but none of them can explain how to reconfigure the world economy without mass starvation. A lot of those Nebraska and Kansas and Dakotas and Wyoming farmers probably believe Trump’s assurances that his temporarily painful negotiating tacts will eventually yield the best trade deal ever, and they’ll all be buying Ford F-150s for their grandkids, but for now we’d suggest they keep their most important foreign trading relationships tariff-free. We’ve absolutely no idea why that irrigation system has shut down, but we hope that despite Trump’s deregulatory zeal the regulatory agencies responsible for the situation will be able to figure that out.
Between nature’s nature and human nature life is always a challenge out here in the heartland, not to mention what some city slicker from New York might do to further muck it up, but so far we’ve always struggled through. Here’s hoping that trend continues.
— Bud Norman