Mixed blessings

What a difference a few degrees make. Take the past two years for example. Everywhere you look there are graphs and charts showing the difference between temperatures last year at this time and now.

Although March came in with a cotton ball snow last year, by this week we were hot on the heels of the fences, walking up hill and down dale, crossing babbling creeks, and splashing through lucent pools of water on the green grass. Robins love those little puddles and bathed with great enthusiasm, flinging droplets into dancing rainbows all around them.

Pussy willows were smiling from the other side of the driveway and the 70-pound behemoth of a blond dog that takes up half the kitchen was just a cute little puppy. The rhubarb was already uncurling wrinkled green and red flags in all the beds on the 22nd of the month.

Maple trees across the river were crimson with buds. Laundry danced jauntily on the clothesline. Crocuses were creeping out, daffodils nodding buttercup heads all around the foundation and out in the wild beds. By April 1 the gold finches were spangled with patches of blinding yellow.

By the 4th of April the cows were at pasture, gobbling luscious, green grass and gamboling around like lambs between bites. Two weeks later the kid was working on fence without his shirt and it was uncomfortably hot to walk up on the fields. Wild rosebushes and raspberries were flaunting neon leaves, boldly green against their dusty red branches.

Oh, there was some ice around and we had a little snow at the end of March, which dusted the daffs and made them duck their heads at the chill.

Still, it was clearly and undeniably Spring, and spring with a capital S at that.

This year it seems as if we have gone back in time to Marches when we were kids. We were sick of winter then, too, but it wasn't done with us quite yet. It isn't done with us this year either. Storm after storm after violent storm has pounded the Midwest burying them deep, causing no end of woe.

Budget bending cold has kept furnaces roaring and heaters hopping.

There are those who aren't complaining, though. Ohio maple syrup producers had a record flood of sap around mid-month and are talking about boiling sap into April. Compared to last year when we were worrying about fruit trees blooming too soon and the maple trees were already heavily budded, that has to be good news for them.

Meanwhile this stingy, stringy, bitter-cold bite of non-spring we have been experiencing is blamed on something known as Arctic Oscillation or AO. According to NOAA, "The AO is a climate pattern characterized by winds circulating counter-clockwise around the Arctic at around 55°N latitude. When the AO is in its positive phase, a ring of strong winds circulating around the North Pole acts to confine colder air across polar regions. This belt of winds becomes weaker and more distorted in the negative phase of the AO, which allows an easier southward penetration of colder, arctic air masses and increased storminess into the mid-latitudes."

While it is good to know what is going on, I would personally be much more interested to know when it is going to stop going on. Hay is short and hard to buy. Cows are cranky and want to roam. Farmers are cranky, too. After all, Becky and I went out to get a start walking fence weeks ago, on one of those last nice days before AO began to mess with us, assessing damage done by winter snows and obstreperous deer. What we found was ground so wet and muddy that it was hard to walk, and lots of interesting things for the dog to sniff. And then, within days after our "fencing" adventure, the places where we hiked were covered with deep, unbroken snow. They still are.

In other locations no one is waiting on weather. Way down yonder in the land of fluffy, white plants that produce fiber for the manufacture of clothing, corn planting has begun. I know, I know -- it is hard to look out the window at drifts suitable for downhill skiing and think about hot season crops like corn, but it's true.

Photos taken as much as three weeks ago in Louisiana show flat, dark fields of smooth, rich soil, rolling out behind planters filled with bright new corn seed. In Kansas, wheat is greening up and photos from Texas show seed heads already filling up with goodness. Mississippi cows are sipping daintily at pasture grass already and have been for a while.

There is talk of drought, though. Always, there is talk of drought, and the word is spoken with dread. Last year was a bad one for dry across an uncomfortable percentage of the country, and a good deal of land is still involved.

Meanwhile, planting prospects for the crops that fuel our cars and trucks, make our corn flakes crispy, and provide bread for our peanut butter sandwiches, are so complicated, you would need a road map and thesaurus to understand them, let alone predict the outcome in terms of future yields.

Some land has been removed from the Conservation Reserve Program, freeing it up to be planted to crops. Ag Web says that 2.62 million fewer acres are enrolled this year than last. The same source reported an increase in acreage planted to assorted varieties of wheat as well. Hard red winter wheat plantings were reported in January to have increased by 600,000 acres, while soft red wheat is up by 1.3 million acres.

However, other varieties of wheat had decreased. Last fall dry conditions prevented it from getting as good a start as it needed, so despite the increase in acreage there are no guarantees for future production.

Thus, spring 2013, where you can find it at all, is a season of mixed blessings and confusing promises. However it is still my favorite season no matter what the weather.

Fultonville dairy farmer MARIANNE FRIERS

is a regular columnist. She blogs

at http://northviewdiary.blogspot.com/