'It Feels A Lot Like 1981'

'It Feels A Lot Like 1981'

Author offers personal memories of a crazy weather year.

If you were around back in 1981, you probably don't need much reminding to remember what that year was like. Unfortunately, 2011 has many of the same earmarks of the 1981 season. Primarily, it was a cool, wet spring.

That was the year I left vo-ag teaching and joined Indiana Prairie Farmer as a field editor. A few people got some crops in. But for a large part of the state, especially in central Indiana, it kept raining, and raining, and raining. As one farmer recently said, almost every year we eventually get a crop in and get it out- sometimes it's just not always when we like.

We still operated a small farm then, with small-sized machinery. Our first window to plant corn came during the first week of June. Even though ti was only 30 years ago, there were much fewer 12, 16 and 24-row planters than today. And there wasn't GPS precision guidance to help you plant into the night, all night if you have the labor force to trade off and keep it going.

There also weren't hybrids with as much vigor to emerge in tough conditions as we have today, or ones that dry down as well as many on the market today. Of course, you only know what you know at the time. So not knowing what advancements the future would bring in plant breeding, we thought the hybrids we had back then were pretty good. They were, as long as things went well. They seemed more susceptible to oddball conditions, and 1982 was certainly an oddball situation.

The first actual issue I wrote for was the September 1981 Indiana Prairie Farmer. Crops were running so far behind that our editor, the late Tom Budd, decided we should do a series of stories for that issue on how to handle wet corn, either by turning it into silage or how to adjust the combine and dryers to make the most of a bad situation. We didn't have the combine capability then that we had now either.

So I cut my teeth on stories about dealing with frost-damaged corn, what to do with corn that wouldn't dry down and the like. Unfortunately, many of those stories proved useful, because many farmers found themselves with a decent corn crop in terms of yield, but a hard crop to handle in terms of being wet and slow to dry down.

Let's hope 2011 departs from similarities to 1981 soon. But even if it doesn't, take comfort in the fact that we're far better equipped to handle a tough year now than we were then. 

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