MOLT, Mont. – There is an old adage out there that goes: “Moisture is never bad, but it may come at inconvenient times.” Dryland farmer, Will Downs, firmly believes in that saying.
These past couple of weeks have been rainy, but Will just takes it all in stride. Things may be a little delayed, it may take a little longer to complete certain tasks, but as a farmer you never, ever curse the rain.
“On average we get 12-14 inches of rain a year. We’ve had two decent batches of rainstorms these past couple weeks. We got a little over two inches in the first batch and this past week we got probably another inch, so we are sitting good moisture wise,” Will says.
The Downs family is still trying to get their winter wheat sprayed, a task they have been working on for a few weeks now, but the weather hasn’t exactly cooperated. The chemical needs one hour to dry on the plant and it has been difficult to find days with enough sun to allow that to happen. The dew has been heavy on the wheat in the morning, so the Downs usually can’t even start spraying until around 11 a.m.
Thankfully they have been able to spray in little bursts and they have made steady progress. Will predicts they only have another day or so of spraying left, so he doesn’t feel they are in a bad time crunch yet.
Besides, being rained out of the field means Will has time to work on the remodel of his house.
Will Downs will be the fourth generation to live in the farm house, which his great-grandfather moved from the town of Molt in the 1930’s. Using only small farm trucks, it must have been quite the feat to truck the house those three miles down the road to the Downs farm – but using elbow grease and a little bit of ingenuity, Will’s great-grandfather was able to complete the task.
Will carries on the hard-working traditions of the generations before him. He admits he tends to have a carpenter’s mind, so the remodel has been somewhat fun for him, albeit a learning experience since he is tackling the remodel entirely by himself.
“It has definitely been a challenge remodeling this house, nothing is quite square,” explained Will. Currently Will is putting new windows into the house.
Once the weather clears up though, it’s back to the field for Will. The malt barley still needs to be sprayed for broad-leaves and the peas need to be sprayed for grasses. After, the Downs will turn their attention to their summer fallow.
Around Molt, the soil profile can vary. Soil that is more clay like can hold moisture and nutrients easier, and therefore is better suited for continuous cropping. However, some fields the Downs farm are sandier, making it harder for them to productively raise a crop year after year. The Downs family usually keeps about 1/3 of their land in fallow, giving the land a chance to rest and rejuvenate. The land must still be maintained for weeds, but other than that, it is usually left completely alone. The Downs will plant the fallow into winter wheat this fall.
Will and his family are continuously learning new ways to keep their land as healthy and sustainable as possible. The invention of Round-Up has allowed them to implement techniques like no-till farming, which has made them better stewards of the land.
“We started no-till farming about 20 years ago. The first few years were kind of rough because we were in a drought, but it has paid off in the long run,” stated Will
By practicing no-till, the overall biology of the soil has become better. The left-over stubble has decreased the temperature of the soil, making it more favorable to the microbes. In addition, Will has noticed there is less soil erosion since the Downs started no-till farming practices.
Sun is in the forecast these coming weeks and Will hopes the increased heat units will really help his crops take off. Until then though, he will be busy with day-to-day farm life and house remodels.