Drought brings stress, decisions and memories

Drought is part of agricultural life in the Upper Midwest. Though we've partially learned to live with it, drought still hurts mentally, emotionally and financially. And drought brings back old memories, too.

Erin Ehnle Brown / Grand Vale Creative LLC

It's sometimes said that drought is the worst thing in agriculture. No, that designation belongs to accidental on-farm deaths; nothing is more awful than losing a friend, neighbor or family member in an ag-related accident.

But drought is mighty bad, too. It takes a heavy toll mentally, emotionally and financially. It doesn't suck away only moisture from fields and pastures, it can suck away hope, too.

That threatens to be the case again in the Upper Midwest. Virtually the entire region is in drought — particularly concerning so early in the growing season. It's one thing to be short of moisture in August or July or even late June; it's quite another to badly need rain as the growing season is beginning.

Agweek has covered the drought closely , of course, and will continue to do so. The lives of many of us at Agweek revolve around ag. Like you, we've suffered through past droughts. And like you, we want plentiful, repeated rains that will end or at least moderate this one as soon as possible.

With that in mind, I respectfully offer two suggestions on how to respond to the drought:


  • Develop a drought plan, if you don't have one already. Talk with an Extension agent or somebody else you trust to come up with a realistic plan of how you'll respond if drought continues and worsens.
  • Don't hesitate to seek professional help if stress and a feeling of helplessness start to get the better of you. Doing so is wise and responsible; there's absolutely nothing weak or shameful about it.

To read more of Jonathan Knutson's Plain Living columns, click here.

A drought story

Drought has been a huge part of my own life, both personally and professionally. I have countless drought-related memories, but here's the one that sticks out the most in my mind:

It was late summer in 1987, and much of the Upper Midwest was hammered by drought. On an early Saturday morning I drove from Bismarck, N.D., where I was working, to my family farm in McVille, N.D., in the north-central part of the state. On the drive home I passed parched pastures and withered fields of hay and crops painful to see, but I was prepared for it.

And I was prepared for the devastated fields and pastures on my family farm, too. I hated to see it, but I knew in advance that things were bad. That helped a little mentally and emotionally.

When I got home, I was immediately drafted to help my father and younger brother move our beef cattle from one pasture to another. As we walked through the first pasture, I came to a spot I knew very well: It was low ground, close to a creek, and even in past droughts the patch had stayed green, or at least a color close to green. Not this time; the grazed-down patch was as brown and withered as the rest of the pasture.

A small patch, a small thing, of course. But unprepared for it, I stood there for maybe half a minute in shock and dismay. Nothing, not even this small, normally lush patch, was immune from the drought! (Eventually my brother quite rightly yelled at me from the distance to keep moving, and so I started walking again.)

The moral of the story, if it's not obvious already, is that agriculturalists are never fully prepared emotionally and mentally for drought. We may think we are, but we're not. Some nasty surprise is bound to pop up to shock and dismay us. When that happens (if you don't have a brother to yell at you), take a deep breath and keep going the best you can.

And drop me a line with your own drought stories. Sometimes the sharing of bad memories can lessen their pain.

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