‘What’s that?’ My personal hairdresser and wife’s Aunt asked me the other day. She was pointing to what I had open on my laptop screen. I was looking at this:
My spreadsheet containing the historical rainfall records for my town, dating back to when they first started keeping records in 1883. ‘Ohhhhhhh, that’s weird.’ Was her reply when I explained to her what it was and what I was doing. Whether you agree with her or not will depend on your answer to the following question: Are you a dry land farmer as I am or not?
If your answer is A you’re currently thinking, ‘I’ve got a copy of those numbers for my nearest station and I’m proud to say I have the last 20 years of rainfall records for my farm in the office at home.’
If you answered B and are likewise thinking ‘that’s weird, why would you do that?’ Allow me to explain why tracking rainfall in excruciating detail is just a normal part of life in my part of the world.
The best way to explain it is to say: Farmers like me relentlessly and obsessively track rainfall because our business income directly depends on it.
Imagine a parallel universe where your wage is directly correlated with temperature. The higher the temperature is relative to the monthly average, the higher your wage. Conversely, the lower the temperature, the lower the pay. If you live in Melbourne and are on this system, you are cursing the recent run of cold frosty mornings and bleak winter days. Not just because they’re a miserable inconvenience, but because this week you’re eating Black and Gold Ice-Cream, not Magnums. Likewise you might remember with fondness the summers of 2009 or 2013, and you’ll remember as extra special the unseasonable heatwave of October/November 2009.
That’s what life is like for us farmers. Generally speaking, pay goes up with rain and down without. The relationship isn’t that simplified of course. But that’s why some country people always want to talk about the weather. Yes, it’s an inoffensive ice-breaker topic. But below the surface it means something a little more.
What data do you keep track of with an almost obsessive routine?