It is hard to talk about something other than water when water drives life on the planet — and when one finds oneself dealing with water issues on a daily basis.
Here in beautiful Bryan County, the rain continues to fall where it is needed least. For the last half of 2011, the southern half of Bryan County had a positive water balance of 3.59 inches. After the rains fell and the water that evaporated or was transpired through plants was subtracted, the Richmond Hill area still gained 3.59 inches of water. Since Jan. 1 of this year, the southern end of the county has gained another 1.72 inches.
So we still have 5.3 inches of water available in the soil, which is about five weeks’ worth in spring, but at least we have water! The amount of water we now have available in Richmond Hill soils so far this year is less than half of the past 50 years’ average for this time of year, but it’s still a positive balance. Most of our row crop and cattle are in the north side of the county. They need water to grow cotton, corn, soybeans, hay and cattle – to make a living farming.
So how did they fare? For the last half of 2011, the north end of the county was in water deficit to the tune of 5.83 inches. So far this year, that area has lost only another 0.1 inch, so the Pembroke area almost is 6 inches in deficit since last July. The farmers in the north end of the county have more than 11 inches less water in their fields than they would have if they were in the south end of the county. But the 11-inch difference is not the real problem here. The real problem is that the hay and row crop fields have not recharged with enough water to plant row crops with any confidence on non-irrigated fields (dry land farming) or get two cuttings of hay.
It is a curious fact that it is hard to pay taxes if one does not make a profit. We already have way too many in the wagon and way too few pulling the wagon. Farmers traditionally have pulled the wagon for this country. If they can’t make it, we all are in trouble.
I have gotten into this habit of eating and wearing clothes. The more I eat, the more important the clothes become. But if it doesn’t rain, it doesn’t matter.
In the past couple of days, we have had some smoke in Bryan and Liberty counties due to prescribed burns on Fort Stewart. I am hoping we get more smoke from more burns soon. Prescribed burns do a lot of good for tree farmers and longleaf pine forests, but one of the immediate benefits to us is the reduction in fuel on the forest floor. The more we can burn off now, the less fuel will be there for wildfires this summer. This summer is going to be a warmer and drier than usual due to the La Nina effect. That makes the risk of wildfire greater.
The most responsible thing to do now is reduce forest floor fuel as quickly as conditions will permit, so we do not have to face the tragic consequences suffered in the Waycross fire several years ago. Be careful driving through the smoke, but know that reducing fuel now will make for a safer summer for all of us.
In earlier columns, I asked you to understand that though farming equipment on the roads may slow your trip, the reasons they are on the road benefit you, even though that benefit may be indirect. Now I have another request that benefits you even more directly: Please do not get upset with forest managers for smoking up your air for a day. It might just be your home they are saving from wildfire by burning off the fuel that has accumulated since the last burn.
I also ask you to show the Georgia Forestry Commission’s equipment the same respect you would a fire truck or an ambulance. Those big, yellow, lowboy trailers loaded with bulldozers are not out for a sightseeing tour. Either they are on their way to or coming back from a wildfire that threatened a tree crop, all its assembled wildlife and all of those who lived in or around it.
Like our urban firefighters, the forestry commission firefighters rush in to help when everyone else is running away.