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Archive for Saturday, August 9, 2003

Drought conditions take toll on state’s fall crops

August 9, 2003

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— Return of drought conditions has taken a toll on spring-planted crops, dashing hopes the bountiful winter wheat harvest signaled the end of the Kansas drought.

If anything, the timely spring rains that nurtured the Kansas wheat crop may have made corn even more vulnerable to this summer's dry conditions.

Because of the wet spring, corn plants did not set out the deeper roots needed to sustain themselves in drier conditions, said Jere White, executive director of the Kansas Corn Growers Assn.

"We have lost 100 million bushels of Kansas corn from where it may very well have been under a normal weather year. That is a significant hit to the national production," said Bill Nelson, a crop analyst for A.G. Edwards & Sons. Farmers in Kansas planted 2.9 million acres of corn this spring.

But with the nation's biggest corn producing states -- Iowa and Illinois -- enjoying plentiful rains and ideal growing conditions, Nelson has predicted a record national corn crop of 10.27 billion bushels. His numbers closely track the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate issued last month.

He also forecasted a record harvest of 3 billion bushels of soybeans nationwide.

Industry watchers will get a better feel for just how much of an affect the drought will have on production when the USDA issues its updated crop forecast on Tuesday. The latest A.G. Edwards numbers are based on Nelson's July 20-27 farm tour of Midwestern states.

In Kansas, corn yields were forecast at 120 bushels an acre for a statewide production of 324 million bushels, according to figures compiled by the commodity firm.

That compares to 290 bushels of corn harvested during last year's drought. In a typical year, the state produces more than 400 million bushels of corn.

For soybeans, Nelson predicted Kansas farmers would harvest an average of 32 bushels per acre for a total state production of 80 million bushels, compared to the 58 million bushels harvested last year.

But he cautioned those soybean production estimates are going down every day it does not rain: "It is a fluid and fast moving situation in Kansas and, unfortunately, fast moving to the down side due to the extreme weather you have been experiencing."

Crops are even struggling in southeastern Kansas, which has more plentiful subsoil moistures than the rest of the state.

"It was looking real good -- then dry weather set in and it went downhill real fast. There isn't going to be any improvement even if we see rain now," said Fredonia farmer Bob Timmons.

It has not rained on his farm since July 1. The best he can hope to get now is 80 bushels an acre out of his dryland corn fields, down from the usual 125 to 130 bushels an acre he normally cuts. Many other Kansas farmers are not so lucky -- they are already cutting their withered corn plants to use as silage to feed livestock.

"It wouldn't be real good, but better than nothing," Timmons said.

While rains now will not help his corn crop, they could still salvage his drought-stressed soybeans.

"People are just exhausted emotionally -- it just wasn't what you would plan on for the third year," said Duane Hund, a farm analyst with Kansas State University who works with struggling farmers.

Farmers have to look back to the 1950s to find three solid years that crops were hit that hard, that consistently, Hund said.

"Despair is building," he said.

The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service this week rated 41 percent of the state's corn crop in very poor or poor condition. Another 37 percent was ranked in fair condition. Just 19 percent of the crop was rated in good and 3 percent in excellent condition.

Making matters worse is that the spring rains were not enough to bolster subsoil moisture levels depleted by a prolonged drought that has lasted more than three years in parts of Kansas.

Only 9 percent of the state had adequate subsoil moisture, and topsoil moisture was rated adequate in just 7 percent of the state, according to the statistics service.

Last week, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius issued a drought warning for 53 counties. The warning -- which indicates a severe drought as measured by the national Drought Monitor -- covers all of western Kansas and the state's northern tier of counties. The remaining 52 counties of central and eastern Kansas are under a drought watch. Sebelius also declared four counties disaster areas because of drought.

After a meeting in Goodland with corn growers from around the state, White said the one thing that separates this year's drought from last year is that at least the irrigated corn is doing well. During last year's drought, irrigators couldn't keep up with the drought, White said.

"It is a mixed bag, especially around Goodland," he said. "Corn that seems to be getting some decent water on it looks pretty good, but you don't have to look very hard to find dryland corn looking real tough."

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