What with absentee dogs, short hay, fire and the Farm Bill markup, it's been another eventful week in farming.
First, our dog ran away. Bless his heart, he's 14 years old and suffers from intermittent old dog vestibular disease. Sometimes he can run around like a pup and sometimes he is as tippy as that tower in Pisa. Saturday we let him out for his morning constitutional, which at his age is something of an urgent matter, and in seconds he was just plain gone.
We didn't think too much of it at first. He's been known to toddle up to the pony pen and drink the water there. If he won't come down when I call (selective deafness that would have done my grandpa proud -- you know, the one who could hear the word "whiskey" whispered from four rooms away) but he always comes back for Becky.
Not this time. We walked and called and whistled. I dusted off memories of the right way to search for a missing pet and called all the shelters, dog officer, and everyone else I could think of, put a wanted poster up on Facebook, and went back to walking and calling. By the way, Facebook is an amazing reuniter of missing pets and distraught owners. Four times now I have seen "missing" and "found" posters for the same pets and contacted both parties to apprise them of one another.
Nick's mug shot was soon shared far and wide. People in Buffalo were keeping an eye out for his sorry self.
There are a few good points about looking for an old dog in the rain. Without even trying I added Eastern Kingbird and Baltimore Oriole to the big bird list. I found the perfect place for someone to build a house some day if they need one, overlooking the valley from a lovely grassy knob, with a breathtaking sweep of view. For now it is just unused pasture, but I could picture it being so much more.
We all looked for hours, from 6 in the morning until well after 11, with a short spell out to do chores. When cell phones died and human legs and voices were threatening to follow, we all came to the house to recharge, with skinny little cords and big cups of coffee.
We sat, mired in stygian gloom, for half an hour or so. I mean, consider losing an old family retainer like that and not knowing. You have to accept that old pets will pass some day, always a lot sooner than you would like, but not knowing ... how awful.
Imagine the guilt.
Suddenly, Becky let out a scream and raced out the door. There the old fogey was, staring dopily up at the bird feeder, soaking wet and covered with hundreds of flower petals. He was fine. Better than we were, really.
Where had he been? We have no idea. However, it is perfectly clear that he is not too crazy about being walked on a leash rather than allowed to wander around pestering cats and eating grass. Too bad for him.
You would think that by the middle of May the news on hay would be all about first cutting yields and quality. Instead some farmers are posting on Facebook about how many layers of winter clothing they have to wear to harvest it, while others are hoping that enough grows to even begin to harvest, and soon.
Monday, Robin Schmahl of Dairy Today wrote that the cold, wet spring coming on the heels of last summer's drought has left many farmers sacrificing milk production rather than feeding purchased hay. Now, as they scout their fields, they are finding severe winter kill in their alfalfa stands as well.
Schmahl also blamed the ongoing hay shortage partly on increasing row crop acreage.
For that you can pencil in ethanol production driving the price of corn, making it more profitable. In fact, he said that hay stocks are the lowest for this time of year that they have been since 1950 when records began. Whether projected decreases in milk supply will result in improved prices remains to be seen.
On Tuesday the Senate Ag Committee approved the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, better known as the Farm Bill. Thus, things may be moving forward on that front.
Dairy is expected to be a major sticking point in discussions. There are a couple of plans out there, both of them pretty much unprecedented and untested, and everyone seems to have conflicting opinions on what they will do to prices.
Always keep in mind when considering the Farm Bill, that the expenditures it mandates nearly all go for feeding programs like Food Stamps, or SNAP, or whatever they are calling them now, to the tune of $768 billion. Nearly 80 percent, in fact. I find it rather disingenuous that some senators are counting on potential improvements in the economy to lower those figures, as people come off the program. Falls under the heading of misplaced optimism and lousy financial planning if you ask me.
Then came a Wednesday morning text forwarded to me by Liz. The national headquarters of the Organic Valley Cooperative suffered extensive fire damage on Tuesday. OV is the largest organic dairy cooperative in the nation, with 1,800 farmer members here and in Canada. The building, located in Lafarge, Wisc., was severely damaged, with at least half of it beyond repair, and the other half not habitable. Around 400 employees were immediately displaced and at least for now company operations will be shifted to offices in other locations.
Despite the distance it is from here, the fire hit close to home. Many of the farms Liz deals with as a milk inspector belong to OV.
And finally, New York Farm Bureau is asking farmers to contact state legislators about the resurrection of the farmworker omnibus bill, which once again pits downstate legislators against the economic realities of farming. You can easily do your part on their website.
Fultonville dairy farmer MARIANNE FRIERS
is a regular columnist. She blogs