Amid drought, farmers turn to faith


By Celine Klosterman

Each day that passes without rain, the amount of lost potential of Tony Kriegel’s 1,800 acres of corn and soybeans ticks higher.
“I think at this point, we’ve probably lost 30 percent of our potential. From here on out, we’d need an inch of rain a week to salvage this crop,” the member of St. Patrick Parish in Brooklyn said last week.
That precipitation isn’t likely to come. The National Weather Service forecasts below-normal levels throughout August. The eastern half of Iowa remains in a severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
But Kriegel knows he’s not in control. “I’m a firm believer we’re at God’s will as to what we get for our crop out here.”
Other farmers in the Diocese of Davenport share his perspective. Some said they see no hope for their corn – though August rains could still revive soybeans – but seek some peace of mind through their faith.
“The good Lord has taken care of us in the past and will continue to do so,” Andy Adam said. A member of Ss. Joseph & Cabrini Parish in Richland, he farms 600 acres of corn and soybeans north of the town.
His crops are slowly dying. Conditions haven’t been this bad in 20 years, he said. But farmers elsewhere are faring worse. “Farther south in Iowa and down into Missouri, it’s pretty much burnt up.”
Portions of the Midwest, including Indiana and southern Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri, are dealing with extreme drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. During the 2012 crop year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated about 1,300 counties across 29 states as disaster areas, mostly in the southern and western U.S.
“We’re blessed here in eastern Iowa with good soil structure, so we can weather this storm better than places with lighter soils,” Curtis Frick said. A member of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport, he farms 300 acres of corn and soybeans near Walcott.
“Our corn is damaged to the point where rain won’t help, but could maybe level it off. Our soybeans are stressed, but they say August rains make soybeans, so we’ve still got a chance with them.”
Jim Foels, who calls himself a “semi-retired farmer,” said the last measurable precipitation came in June thanks to a windstorm that blew rain onto his 320 acres of corn and soybeans north of Brooklyn.
“I think about everybody who’s got any belief in God is praying for rain,” said the St. Patrick parishioner. His parish, like others, acknowledges the need in prayers of the faithful at Mass and in bulletin announcements.
“The hardest part for me — and I think for a lot of farmers — is the emotional roller coaster that we ride,” Kriegel said. “We spend a lot of time and money putting our crop in. It’s hard to watch that go away.”
He has an insurance policy that covers large crop losses, but would rather not have to collect on it. And the farmer of 45 years worries how younger farmers, who may have little equity built up, will fare after a poor growing season.
Everyone will feel the effects of this drought, if only at the grocery store, Kriegel said. With rising corn prices, some livestock farmers will sell their animals rather than lose money buying feed. That means the cost of meat, milk and eggs will go up in six to nine months, he said.
The Des Moines-based National Catholic Rural Life Conference noted that lower-income Americans will especially notice any price increase; they tend to spend more of their income on food. On its website, the organization encourages praying for them as well as for farmers. also offers a link to a novena to St. Isidore, a 12th-century Spanish farmer.
For Foels, one suggestion seems especially relevant: “Let go and let God. That always sticks in my mind in times like this.”

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