THIS has been a challenging summer for agriculture in the United States. While many farmers in the Mississippi-Missouri watershed have seen a year's efforts swept away by flooding, others in the Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest have been hard hit by the other extreme - devastating drought.
Americans who watched, via television, the daily drama of dams versus the deluge in the Middle West could have looked around their own countrysides and read the message of cracked farmland, wilted fruit trees, stunted, nearly dried-up corn, and other hard-hit crops.
Areas seriously affected include Alabama, the Carolinas, Georgia, New England, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, central and east Texas, and parts of southwest Missouri. Crop losses are estimated at more than $500 million. Farmers in some states still hold out in hope of late summer rain that would at least save part of this year's crops.
None would claim that his problems are of the scale experienced by Midwesterners. But agriculture specialists say the situation is severe enough to drive some farmers off their land, at least temporarily.
Some large farmers in the affected regions estimate individual losses in hundreds of thousands of dollars; the small operations are more vulnerable financially. If substantial rainfall occurs soon, say some observers, at least some cotton, peanut, and soybean crops could be saved.
A number of small-scale farmers have to try to tough it out by working at other, low-paying jobs that they hope may enable them to make it to better times. These people know how to wait and make do.
But one can be the best farmer in the state, aware of all the newest developments in agriculture - and still find today's conditions demoralizing.
Why do people stay with it? Farmers feel that they are their own bosses, pride themselves on self-reliance; they think they can make it through this year and - who knows? - maybe next year will be all one could ask for.
Many farmers will tell you that the freedom is worth the risk, if one can just pile up enough good years to compensate for the bad.
For all the modern techniques, developments, and expertise, farming is still a question of man and nature - and faith. There are some who just could never leave it; when you come to see it as farmers do, you understand why.