Seeds of Discontent

On the blue-dark evening of May 13, 1995, Craig Williams stood on the porch of the single-story ranch house he'd built twenty years ago. To the south, east and north, his wheatfields promised a bountiful year; the stalks were thigh-high already, their tips clustered tightly with beads of grain. As Williams looked north that night, toward the white grain elevator pinpointing the town center of Brandon, a plane moved into view, then a second.

"Not too many planes fly over here, particularly in front of a big storm," Williams says. "And there was a pretty good thunderhead there. We got the binoculars and, sure enough, we saw the generators on the wingtips. My dad and I sat and watched them seed the clouds for over an hour, flying back and forth, back and forth. Several hours later the hail came.

"When they started seeding, I had several thousand acres of pretty good wheat, about thirty bushels an acre, I'd figured. By the time it was over and the hail stopped, I had 4,000 acres of wheat, yielding maybe but four to six bushels an acre. Watching that storm that night I felt sick. It just made me sick."

Most farmers ruined by hail blame Mother Nature. Williams, who calculates he lost $350,000 worth of crops in the twenty minutes it took the hail to pound his wheat back into the soil last May, blames Kansas. Specifically, he holds Curtis Smith responsible.

Between April and September, Smith, a short, round man with Popeye forearms, a thinning tangle of hair and thick eyeglasses, sits in a cool, darkened room inside a cluster of small yellow prefabricated buildings just outside Lakin, Kansas, about forty miles to the southeast of Williams's farm. It is from here that Smith directs the Western Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 1's weather-modification program, the largest in the nation. His job is immense: to decrease the amount of hail that pummels western Kansas's farmers and, if he gets the opportunity, to increase the amount of rain they get.

Most of the weather that affects the twelve counties in the groundwater district moves from west to east, usually from southwest to northeast. For the past twenty years, Kansas's cloud seeders have applied for, and received, permission to fly ten to thirty-five miles into eastern Colorado to seed the clouds in preparation for their arrival in Kansas.

Recently, however, Smith has concluded that it is necessary to get an even larger jump on fast-moving weather patterns. So this year the district applied to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for a license to seed sixty miles inside the Colorado border. The flyovers would form a swath that cuts through the eastern halves of Kit Carson, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Prowers and Baca counties. The Colorado board is scheduled to rule on the request within days.

Kansas hasn't had much difficulty getting its seeding license in the past; there is no hard evidence that the Kansas pilots have a negative effect on Colorado's crops. But this year has been different. The severest drought in more than a decade has Colorado's farmers scrutinizing the sky possessively.

At a meeting seven weeks ago in Lamar, several dozen farmers and a handful of county commissioners representing Colorado's five southeastern-most counties angrily informed Smith they didn't want his planes messing with the weather over their heads. They had new concerns about the Kansas program, spurred by the drought: If seeding Colorado's clouds gave Kansas more rain, they theorized, wasn't it taking moisture away from this state? And wasn't it possible that decreasing hail there might increase it here?

Anticipating such questions, Smith paid for meteorologists and cloud physicists from around the country to attend the Lamar meeting. Patiently, with time left for questions, they explained how, scientifically, Colorado's farmers had nothing to fear from Kansas's seeders. The farmers were stubborn, though, and Smith has run out of patience.

"They choose to remain ignorant," he fumes. "Are they stupid? Can't they read? We bring in educated people, people who are experts in their field, and these farmers choose not to listen. They've got cement for brains. My firm belief is there's no hope for them."

Back in Kiowa County, Craig Williams remains calmly unconvinced--he knows what he knows. "I've farmed here right where I live for nineteen years," he says, pausing to spit some Copenhagen juice. "There was one hailstorm in the first sixteen years. Now I've had two crops hailed out in the last two years; I've seen them seed twice, and both times there was pretty good hail. Maybe it would've happened anyway.

"The thing is, you just don't know. We may be ignorant, and we may be asking them not to fly over for all the wrong reasons. But until they can prove it isn't doing us any harm, I guess I feel it's not the right thing to do."

Curtis Smith bustles into his office and, by way of explanation, points out the door to a tall cloud mounding to the southwest. It appears to have gathered itself out of nothing; the rest of the sky is hazy but completely cloudless. At 1:30 in the afternoon on the Kansas plains, the sun is blinding and the wind is a hot breath. "We've got to get up there," he says.

In a room behind his desk is a second space darkened by shutters. Smith immediately sits down in front of a round radar screen and flicks some switches. To his right, a National Weather Service computer screen of the United States shows heavy rain over Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa but dry, empty space over Kansas and Colorado. Yet after just a few seconds, Smith has isolated the cloud cell he spotted outside a minute earlier. On a second screen to his left, an uneven green blob appears superimposed over a map of western Kansas.

Smith makes several more adjustments on the radar screen, and a cutaway of the cloud takes the place of the Kansas map. It looks tall and narrow, like a partially inflated hot-air balloon. The inside of the computer image is divided into ragged, concentric circles, like the rings of a tree stump. Each ring is color-coded; red indicates the cloud is carrying hail. The center of this image is red.

After making some calculations, Smith orders the two pilots standing behind him to start their single-engine prop planes toward the cloud base. He gets on the phone and directs another plane, a twin engine based in nearby Scott City, to take off and head for the top of the cloud.

The Western Kansas Weather Modification Program began in 1975 with a single plane. Smith was hired to head it ten years later. A mathematician by training, he now lives most of his life in the shadow of storm clouds: During the winter--off-season in Kansas--he has consulted on seeding projects in Jordan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and, last year, in Chile.

Today the Kansas program Smith directs has six planes and a yearly budget of more than $400,000. The money is raised by a local acreage tax on farmers in the counties that choose to participate. When the farms are added together, "we cover 11,500 square miles," says Smith. "You could stuff the state of New Jersey in here and still have room left over for some of those other dinky little states."

Breaking out the numbers is difficult, but Smith estimates about 85 percent of the 500 average yearly flights are made with the goal of suppressing hailstorms over the district. The remainder are made in the hope of stimulating rain.

The pilots all look to be about fourteen years old, although most are actually in their twenties. Brian Bergman is a tall Midwesterner who began flying weather-modification planes directly after college, four years ago. In the off-season he works construction in Minnesota, but that's only because cloud seeding isn't done year-round.

"Even as a kid I loved thunderstorms," he says. "And I went to the University of North Dakota for aviation. When I heard there was something I could do that involved both, I became real interested. I love weather mod. It's such a rush flying next to a thunderstorm. A real good textbook thunderstorm is very smooth, very easy. The updrafts are so strong you just put the engine on idle, let her coast. I love it more than anything."

About 45 minutes after Bergman launches, another pilot, Tyson Teeter, points his plane toward the cloud cell. By now the cloud has darkened and some rain already has fallen to the south of Lakin. Smith is worried that if the cloud gains enough energy, the precipitation could turn into hail.

Mounted on the plane's wingtips are steel tubes that look like miniature jet engines. The generators contain silver iodide, which the pilot can release into the cloud with the flick of a switch. Mounted on the wing closer to the cabin are a series of flares that can release the chemical mixture at a much faster rate.

Although physicists have spent years trying to understand clouds, the idea behind seeding is relatively simple. Clouds contain moisture, but much of it never gets to the ground. Like the formation of pearls, raindrops gather around microscopic particles. Many clouds don't have enough to start a raindrop, though. So cloud seeders inject additional particles--silver iodide--into a cloud in the hopes that its moisture will form rain around them.

Hail suppression, on the other hand, focuses on clouds that already contain hail or conditions that make it likely for hail to form. Hailstones cause damage when they become large enough to survive the trip from the cloud to the ground as big ice particles. By adding large quantities of silver iodide, seeders attempt to increase the competition among particles for the cloud's moisture. In theory, this results in smaller hailstones, which melt into raindrops on their trip earthward.

Teeter climbs toward the cloud from the north. At about 13,000 feet, the base of it becomes obvious. Flat and dark, the smooth base indicates that the storm cell is strong and growing. Teeter circles tightly several times underneath the base looking for updrafts, blasts of air where he can release the silver iodide to be whisked into the center of the cloud cell.

To the east, a shaft of rain drops out of the base like a gauze curtain. As Teeter circles counterclockwise, bouncing and yawing in the quick drafts, large raindrops pound the windshield; several lightning bolts flash to the side. Every few minutes he takes a long hit off an oxygen tank to make up for the unpressurized cabin.

Smith keeps track of both the cloud system's movements and the planes, each of which is equipped with a Global Positioning System. Using his radar, he positions Teeter and instructs him when to fire his silver iodide into the cloud. After an hour of circling mostly under the south side of the base, the pilots are called back in. The storm system has moved far enough east that it is no longer a threat to the member counties of the Western Kansas Groundwater Management District; the rest of the counties, whose farmers don't pay for the program, are on their own.

By 4:30, Smith is leaning back in his chair, the radar scan showing clear skies over western Kansas. "It's hard to say whether we prevented any hail," he shrugs. "We'll get data in a few days that tells us what the storm did to the east. But you just don't know."

The truth is, nobody really knows. It has been exactly fifty years since a scientist named Vincent Schaefer, who had studied the causes of aircraft icing during World War II, discovered that ice crystals could be produced artificially in particular clouds simply by sprinkling dry ice into them. Later, Bernard Vonnegut, the brother of novelist Kurt Vonnegut, found that silver iodide worked even better.

Despite a half-century of study, however, there is still vast disagreement among meteorologists and cloud physicists over the effectiveness of cloud seeding. Most of the debate centers on the practice rather than the theory. Nearly everyone agrees that, under controlled conditions, certain clouds can be made to release moisture or be altered to decrease hail. The problem comes when those principles are applied to actual weather patterns, infinitely complex systems whose futures are, at best, educated guesses.

Weather modification caught on quickly. By the late 1940s, much of the country's farmland was covered by seeded clouds. Colorado lawmakers were interested enough to pass the Weather Control Act of 1951, in which the state claimed the right to all moisture suspended in the atmosphere that fell into, or became part of, the natural streams of Colorado. President Dwight Eisenhower, alarmed by such fast and widespread use of weather modification, soon appointed a committee to study the practice.

The Eisenhower committee disbanded after several years, concluding that, although it appeared weather modification had an effect, just what that effect was required more study. The president's panel had been directed by the then-head of the Navy's weather services, Howard Orville.

Several years later, one of Orville's sons, Harold, entered the University of Virginia as a political science major. But he quickly lost interest in politics, replacing it with more and more enthusiasm for his father's work. Now a professor of meteorology at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Harold Orville is the country's recognized expert on cloud seeding--believers' division.

As evidence of cloud seeders' success, he points to a resurgence in the practice. North Dakota, Kansas, Nevada, Utah, Texas, Arizona and Illinois all have growing weather-modification programs. So does Mexico. "Farmers are practical people," observes Kansas's Smith. "We've been funded for 22 years now. If something didn't work, they'd stop it."

And for the first time, two cities--Calgary and Red Deer, in Alberta, Canada--are beginning their own five-year, $1.4 million hail-suppression program. It is being funded by the insurance industry, which has calculated that hail damage done to roofs, cars and office buildings is at least as expensive as that done to crops. (Last year a hailstorm over Dallas/Fort Worth caused $1 billion in damage.)

Bruce Boe, who heads North Dakota's Atmospheric Resource Board, which supervises one of the country's longest-running weather-modification projects, is another believer. "We've increased rainfall in our target area by 10 or 15 percent," he says.

Yet there is a nearly infinite variety of factors that influence a weather pattern, making it impossible to know for certain how cloud seeding affects the weather. For scientists drilled in precision, that is a problem.

"In theory," says Peter Hobbs, a meteorologist at the University of Washington, "it seems it would be possible to increase rain by seeding. But, of course, nature is not that simple, and there are many, many variables we don't understand."

Hobbs is Harold Orville's counterpart in the cloud-seeding skeptics' division. He has made a career of debunking the practice. Even after forty years of research all over the world, he says, the notion of predictable weather modification remains "just wishful thinking. It's like the Indians used to do a rain dance, an offering to the heavens in the hope of rain."

In fact, it is a source of unending frustration to the meteorologists, physicists, pilots and administrators who believe in the power of weather modification that, despite numerous technological advancements and seemingly endless studies, the science of cloud manipulation remains to many people more a matter of faith than fact.

"Cloud seeding," says Roger Reinking, a research meteorologist with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder since 1975, "is all about emotion. People get emotional when you're doing things in the sky."

"We'll win any battle based on fact," adds Boe. "It's when politics and emotion come into it. I do some farming, and I'm a Christian. And when I discuss weather modification with people, there's always this background element that maybe we shouldn't be doing this, that the sky is God's realm. But most farmers won't say this in a public forum, so they come up with other reasons.

"I remember talking to one farmer here privately who told me that cloud seeding was messing with Mother Nature," Boe continues. "And I said to him, 'Do you irrigate?' He said he didn't, but that he would if he could. And I said, 'What's the difference?' It's where you draw the line. Farmers will use herbicides and pesticides and irrigate--it's okay to work with Mother Nature at ground level. But when it gets to the sky, they'd just rather not."

"This is the High Plains Network with your weather forecast. Yesterday the temperatures were low--in the fifties and sixties--with low-lying clouds. It just wasn't warm enough to generate any rain. Today the opposite is going to be true--it's gonna be too hot for any thunderstorms to develop, up into the nineties. So it looks like another dry forecast for the next few days, at least. This is staff meteorologist Don Day for the High Plains Network."

Tuesday morning, bull's-eye center of Colorado's Kiowa County. The heat is climbing quickly. The morning light has already turned flat and hard, and shimmering heat mirages undulate over the fields. Two miles south of Brandon, Craig Williams sits stiffly in his living room, his attention focused on the television weather report. His wife, Susan, watches from the couch. The news is not promising.

In eastern Colorado this spring, there is nothing more important than the weather. Precipitation is down as much as 90 percent in some counties, particularly in the southeast corner of the state, where winter wheat crops are shriveled and stunted. No one is prospering this year.

Burl Scherler farms about 8,000 acres in Kiowa County, where he was a commissioner from 1985 to 1993. Apart from the few inches of snow he received in September, he has been dry since last summer. "We're just going to destroy our winter crop and try to plant another one this summer," he says. "We've got the highest wheat prices ever, and we don't have anything to sell."

"I've had less than two inches of moisture in any form since last July first," says John Stulp, a Prowers County commissioner and wheat farmer who lives about ten miles south of Lamar. Even so, Stulp is doing considerably better than Don Self, a Baca County farmer who says he's had six-tenths of an inch of precipitation fall on his 2,600-acre farm since last July 16.

"It's dry down here--bone dry," Self says. "We're in a terrible drought. We're 95 percent gone on our wheat."

It would seem that dry spells would be a good time for weather modification, but that is not the case; seeding is least effective during a drought, when clouds are in low supply. Historically, that paradox--seeders are most in demand when they are least able to help--has made many farmers cynical, and weather modifiers still are trying to shake the image of snake-oil salesmen.

Dry spells also tend to whip up the strongest sentiments about cloud seeding, spreading the divide of opinion to extremes. To farmers who are desperate for moisture and have come into some money, a drought can make weather modification--a waste of time last year--suddenly seem workable. (Oklahoma has requested emergency funding for a program there.) The farmers without means simply become more possessive of their air space.

In the spring of 1977, with much of the nation gripped by a drought, the State of Washington passed emergency legislation to pay for a cloud-seeding program over the Cascade Mountain range. The lawmakers hoped to end a rainless period that threatened to wipe out eastern Washington's billion-dollar wheat and fruit crops.

On the day the program began, Idaho's attorney general charged that Washington's weather modification would swipe rain from his similarly parched state and threatened to file a lawsuit charging Washington with "inverse pollution" for taking rain out of the atmosphere. "We want this thing held up until we're sure we won't be deprived of our fair share of the weather that's due us," Wayne Kidwell said at the time. Kidwell backed down when he received a letter from then-governor John Evans of Idaho advising him that that state was also considering seeding its clouds.

In 1991, after enduring several successive years of lower-than-normal rainfalls, the farmers of eastern Montana were looking for relief. They looked east, where the planes hired by neighboring North Dakota to seed east-moving clouds over Montana had begun to take on a sinister appearance. When North Dakota applied for its annual license to fly over Montana in 1992, Montana's farmers complained loudly.

"There were some people in Montana who felt the North Dakota aircraft were impacting their rainfall," explains Larry Holman, Montana's Water Rights Bureau Chief. "Their evidence was that their rainfall was lower than it had been in previous years."

"What they failed to consider," Holman continues, "is that their rainfall, while lower, was still proportionally the same or even higher than in surrounding areas. All the Montana farmers knew is that they had gone through a time of low rainfall, which they attributed to the North Dakota seeders: If there was rainfall in North Dakota, than it had to come from somewhere, and it was coming from Montana."

Never mind that North Dakota had been seeding over its western neighbor for a full two decades without a complaint. During the dry spell, "our program became political," says Bruce Boe. Montana denied North Dakota's 1992 flyover license application. Soon after that, the Montana legislature passed a law requiring any out-of-state weather modifiers to complete an environmental impact statement before receiving a license--an enormously expensive hurdle.

"I've put all my weather-modification books away," says Holman, "because it's just going to be so difficult for anyone to do it in Montana in the future with so many bureaucratic hoops."

Compared to other states' turbulent histories with weather modification, Colorado's experiences with the practice have been relatively calm. In fact, the state has hosted much of the scientific effort that has gone into trying to understand cloud seeding.

In the 1970s, the Boulder-based National Center for Atmospheric Research began an extensive hail-suppression study in northeastern Colorado; it was abandoned after several years and a lack of any conclusive results. Another seminal long-term study was conducted in the town of Climax by researchers from Colorado State University, and yet another was done at Grand Mesa. Both NCAR and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, also in Boulder, continue to be on the cutting edge of weather-modification studies.

Even against such a formidable backdrop of reasoned and scientific exploration, though, politics and passion have found their way into Colorado's struggle to come to terms with manipulating weather from the sky.

"The drought began in the early 1970s," begins Robert Teem, a retired rancher in the San Luis Valley, just north of Alamosa. "Day after day after day, we couldn't get any rain at all. We don't use any sprinklers down here, and we need the rain. By God, if you don't get some rain, you don't have nothing.

"I'd heard of hail suppression. I never paid any attention to it, never paid any attention to it. But the summer went on, and there was no rain, no rain. One day I got to speaking to a crop duster here in Alamosa, and he said, 'You know the reason there's no clouds here, don't ya? It's the cloud seeders.' And he told me about it, and we got to investigating it. And it turned out to be true. So me and my brother, we formed the Concerned Citizens for Weather Modification.

"Coors Brewery grows malt and barley in the valley," he continues, "and Bill Coors thought he'd dominate the crop down here, so he started a hail-suppression program. He claimed he didn't want any hail. Well, nobody wants hail. But when you cut the hail, you cut the rain, too. And he knocked out every cloud down here. By God, every day they was knocking clouds out of the sky.

"We finally met with ol' John Love up there. The barley growers told us we wouldn't get five minutes with Governor John Love. Well, we got there at 11:30, went through his noon hour, went two hours. He just sat there, lit up a cigarette, leaned back and listened to us."

In June 1971, Colorado lawmakers appointed a committee to examine problems associated with the weather-modification programs cropping up throughout the state. That resulted in the Colorado Weather Modification Act of 1972, which, among other things, directed the formation of a permanent advisory board to offer weather-modification advice to the state Department of Natural Resources.

In the meantime, the governor dispatched Lou Grant, the CSU researcher who'd run the weather-modification studies at Climax, to see if he could resolve the differences between the ranchers and barley farmers. He couldn't.

"They were just too far apart," recalls Grant, who is now retired and farms 1,500 acres in Larimer County. But by studying climatology records, Grant determined that although precipitation was down, the San Luis Valley actually had been enjoying higher than normal rainfall in recent years, and that the Coors hail-suppression efforts had had no effect on the valley's rainfall.

In 1972, the San Luis cloud seeders, applying under the state's new weather modification laws, received their license to fly that year. The program didn't last long, however.

"At the time, they had a radar setup here, in a trailer house," Teem recalls. "That's how they told them about the clouds, whether there was hail in them. But in 1972, somebody blew that thing all to hell with dynamite. That's what the Rio Grande sheriff said--they used dynamite. He said that everybody opposed to the seeding was a suspect. So you had 25,000 suspects. They never caught anyone.

"Since somebody blew up that ol' boy's radar trailer, there's been no one who's tried to do seeding here again," Teem concludes. "There was hard feelings between farmers and ranchers for several years, and there's still some heated talk once in a while. I hope never to go through it again. I hope nobody ever tries it here again."

"Anybody can make the claim that a seeding program increases hail or decreases rain," says Roy Rassmusen, a cloud physicist at NOAA for eighteen years. "And they may or may not be right. I don't know. There haven't been any studies. But somebody has an experience where they see a plane seed a cloud and rain come out of the bottom, so for them, it works. Somebody else sees a plane seed a cloud and it doesn't rain, and for them it's a failure."

With such a potent mixture of emotion and economics swirling around cloud seeding, what people believe about weather modification this year very much depends on where they live.

"A lot of people out there see these cloud seeders in the sky, and then they get hailed out," says Burl Scherler of Kiowa County. "It may not be scientific, but it's what people believe. Sometimes it doesn't matter what the facts are; it's perception that counts the most. Some perceptions are awfully hard to change."

The farmers of eastern Colorado first perceived a problem in late 1995, when a group of county commissioners representing the area presented the state water board with what they viewed as startling information: Eastern Colorado's hail-damage insurance rates had soared recently. (Scherler says he pays $23 per $100 worth of crop to protect his wheat from potential hailstorms.) At the same time, hail-insurance rates in Kansas had fallen.

"Hail-damage premiums are down in Kansas and up in eastern Colorado," says Prowers County's Stulp, "so we've extrapolated out of that that they've decreased hail in Kansas but at the same time increased the damage here. The insurance companies are convinced we're getting increased hail damage, and I am, too."

Adds Self, of Baca County, "It sure seems like we've got more hail the last few years--we've had some terrible storms. Course, could be the seasons--I'm not prepared to say it's the Kansas seeders. But it sure wouldn't hurt to stop until we know for sure. We're not mad at 'em--there's good people in Kansas, excellent people. But, as I told them, until they can prove they ain't hurtin' us, we've got to say no. It's just one of those situations it's hard to know what to do with."

The complaints escalated this year. Adding fuel to the ire was the court ruling in a dispute between Kansas and Colorado over the Arkansas River, in which the Supreme Court determined that Colorado farmers had been overusing the river for years and now owed Kansas water. Says Scherler, "Don't you think it's a slap in the face that they steal our river water, and now they go ahead and take the rain out of the clouds?"

Colorado farmers' worries about the Kansas seeding program have trickled upward. "We don't favor it," says J.J. Ament, director of the Colorado Wheat Growers Association. "We want a little more research showing this is an effective way of nature engineering. Nature, as we in agriculture know, kind of runs her own show. And we just don't know all the side effects."

On March 27, Baca County's commissioners wrote the following to the Colorado Water Conservation Board: "We oppose the [Kansas flyover] application because of the extension of the affected area and, more fundamentally, because we believe that the risks of weather modification exceed the benefits."

In late April, Thomas Kourlis, Colorado's agriculture commissioner, toured southeastern Colorado to discuss the Kansas flyovers. In an April 29 memo, Kourlis reported to the water conservation board that "farmers stated that they were hopeful that seeding of clouds 60 miles within Colorado's borders would not be allowed. It is believed by many that cloud seeding increases hail damage, and consequently, increases insurance rates to those farmers near the edge of the overfly."

Curtis Smith has tried to answer each concern with reams of letters, charts, graphs and tables. Yes, Colorado has had more hailstorms in the past couple years, and that includes the six-county area of Kit Carson, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Bent, Prowers and Baca. But, he adds, weather records suggest Colorado's severe weather has little or nothing to do with Kansas's cloud-seeding program.

In fact, Smith points out that in 1994, the one year Kansas didn't seed in Colorado, the six-county area still suffered so much hail damage that it accounted for more than half of the total damage reported for the entire state that year. If anything, Smith wrote, "there is a strong suggestion that whatever seeding has been done in Colorado has helped reduce hail there."

Smith also notes that while it's true that hail insurance rates are higher in eastern Colorado than in western Kansas, it is also true that eastern Colorado naturally has more hail than western Kansas does. Besides, he adds, the Kansas hail-suppression program is supposed to prevent hailstorms and thus lower insurance rates; that's what the farmers are paying for.

Finally, Smith points out, of 375 total hours of seeding done by the district last year, only 10 hours--less than 3 percent--was done in Colorado.

Dusty Tallman, a Kiowa County wheat and milo farmer, says that was more than enough. "I don't think it's so much we can prove their seeding causes hail over us or that it takes away rain, as it was that they can't prove it didn't hail after they seeded." Adds Scherler, "We can't prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they're harming us. But they can't prove they're not harming us."

Such reasoning drives Smith crazy. "I don't know what kind of proof they're after," he complains. "You don't know absolutely that Jesus Christ is coming or that you'll live to be 100. You don't know absolutely that you won't get hit by a truck when you cross the street. But there are only so many absolutes in life.


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