Archive for Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Winter wheat faring well, but drought still not over

March 29, 2005


— Verdant stands of winter wheat thriving in the state's last drought holdouts look like they might provide a bountiful 2005 harvest, but the crop remains vulnerable as the long dry spell that has gripped northwest Kansas for years still is not over.

At his acreage near Goodland, farmer Ken Palmgren said his white winter wheat looked as good as it ever had for this time of the year. Last spring, plants didn't emerge in some areas, leaving spotty fields.

Today, wheat fields are thick in Sherman County but, despite last week's precipitation, need more rain soon -- with some plants turning blue from the lack of moisture, he said.

"Right now I feel much better because of the fact that at least we have the possibility of a good crop," Palmgren said. "We have the stand and some moisture, which is keeping it alive -- and we are optimistic about receiving more rain."

But state climatologist Mary Knapp said winter wheat remained vulnerable and needed continuing favorable weather. She noted that subsoil moisture would be needed to carry crops through an extended dry period.

"Looking at that wonderful wheat crop doesn't tell you what the underlying conditions are," she said. "It could very well have enough moisture to get the wheat in and get through harvest, although April is a very critical month for that."

Good moisture in April is crucial because that is when winter wheat plants produce seed heads, and the crop also is particularly vulnerable then to late spring freezes, Knapp said.

"We still have a long way before it is in the bin," she said.

Although parched northwest Kansas received more moisture than normal this winter and is ahead of normal for precipitation so far this year, it's not enough to make up for a drought of about four or five years, Knapp said.

Only 5 percent of the Kansas wheat crop is now rated as poor or very poor, Kansas Agriculture Statistics Service reported Monday. An additional 23 percent is in fair condition, with 52 percent rated as good and 20 percent excellent.

"If you look at the fact that it took five years to get in the state they are in, it is not something that is going to disappear by one favorable year," Knapp said. "It is going to take close to as long to get out of the drought as it took to get into it."

Northwest Kansas, for example, received 119 percent of its normal rainfall last week, with 1.48 inches falling in the area, she said. But that does not go far in erasing a long-term deficit of 15 to 20 inches over the last four to five years.

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