Recent showers will make it possible for us to mow the yard again this weekend. And the hayfield out by the county hospital has been cut for the second crop of hay this summer. Usually, a third cutting has already been bailed and put in the barn. It will not produce at its normal level.
Few of us have kept our car windows rolled up and our doors locked at church this summer in order to protect ourselves from the usual unneeded gifts of tomatoes, beans and squash. Vendors at our little local farmer’s market have been rare and their offerings dwarfed. Okra seems to be about the only garden crop in abundant supply.
Area row crops will be severely reduced due to the drought. The corn crop has failed. The cotton and soybean crops will be far below average, it seems. When this is coupled with the high costs of planting and harvesting due to the increases in petroleum costs, the outlook is not good either for the farmer or consumers.
The cattle ranches have already had to use their hay reserves to feed. So many heads of beef have been sent to market already. There prices are depressed due to increased offerings.
Milk production at our dairies is down substantially. There, too, herds are being reduced. And with smaller crops of grain, their cost of production will soar this winter.
The hot weather is taking its toll in the chicken houses across the area. And the prospect of winter, with higher grain prices and the added costs of practices which guard against the potential spread of bird flu, has farmers worried.
Even the catfish farmers are being hurt by the drought conditions. Instead of rain filling the ponds, water has to be pumped in. And feed prices continue to rise. The margin of profit has almost disappeared.
We hear that the farmers and ranchers of the Southeast are not alone in their present and potential suffering. Reports from the Midwest and from the Great Plains are similar. And there with the depletion of aquifers, the use of irrigation may not be cost effective.
The foresters are in somewhat better condition. The drought has dried up some swampy places and has allowed crews to cut some stands that they have not been able to get into for decades. However, the hot weather has weakened pine trees, and the beetle infestation appears to be more severe as a result.
Further, the demand for plywood continues to be high as the Gulf Coast rebuilds from the hurricanes of last summer.
Sales of sugar at our local grocery have been good. It seems that hummingbirds have been aggressive in seeking sugar water from the feeders on back porches due to the drought.
The newspapers, news magazines and television news programs are full of reports and commentaries trying to fix a blame. Some see this drought as simply the result of natural cyclical patterns of weather. Others blame it on global warming. A few may even opt for a combination of the two. Missing is reference to God.
In the Bible one finds a deep belief that God is sovereign, and that while there are natural laws that govern the universe, there were times when God has used the weather to get the attention of those who were disobedient to him.
So, while one should not attribute every “natural disaster” or drought to God, when one does come, we need to prayerfully consider if God may not be punishing and speaking to humankind through this event.
One of the spiritual benefits for agriculturists is that they continue to see the need to depend upon and trust in God. I will never forget the testimony of a peanut farmer in South Georgia who declared back in the mid-1980s that after he gotten irrigation he felt that he could pretty much control his own fate. But he found in the Family Farm Crisis a word from God to not become arrogant and self-sufficient. Risk cannot be removed from agriculture.
It has also been interesting to me to see how so many folk have taken 2 Chronicles 7:14 out of context, spiritualized it, and made it say things that were not intended by God. The context is drought. God is calling for people in that agricultural society to be obedient. Obedience bring blessing.
At least a few of us who live and work in rural areas sometimes feel as though we are “suffering servants” in that when God speaks to everyone in a region through droughts and natural disasters we are the one most immediately impacted. Perhaps we might deal with this better if we knew that urban friends and kin were more “spiritual” and stopped to ponder such things and ask what God may be saying to us all through weather events. Certainly they can and should remember us in their prayers.
Gary Farley is partner in the Center for Rural Church leadership, Carrollton, Ala.