Archive for Monday, March 9, 2009

Dry winter weather threatens state’s wheat crop

March 9, 2009

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A dry winter has raised concern among farmers in some parts of Kansas about the condition of their wheat crop.

Last week’s report by the Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service showed 15 percent of the wheat crop was in poor to very serious condition because of dry weather. About 35 percent was in fair shape while 45 percent was good. Only 5 percent was rated excellent.

Of particular concern is the wheat in western Kansas, said Dusti Fritz, chief executive of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. Warm temperatures seen there over the past few days have not been favorable to wheat, she said.

The wheat has emerged from the ground, but it goes into dormancy and stops growing in winter, Fritz said. When it starts to warm up again this time of year it uses what subsoil moisture there is. And there is not much there, now.

In southwestern Kansas, rainfall in February was only 34 percent of normal, and it is only 22 percent of normal since the beginning of the year, Kansas climatologist Mary Knapp said.

In the southwestern Kansas town of Ulysses, the normal precipitation at the beginning of February is .01 inches. By the end of March normal precipitation is up to .04 inches.

“They don’t get a whole lot out there in the best of times,” Knapp said. “Now, each day you go without rain in March that hole gets deeper, faster.”

In the Lawrence area many wheat farmers aren’t sure yet what winter’s effect on the crop is, Douglas County farmer David Wulfkuhle said. That’s because fall rains delayed wheat planting from October to around Thanksgiving. Therefore the wheat hasn’t come up yet, Wulfkuhle said.

“Actually, the soil is probably not as dry as everybody thinks it is. It is dry right on the surface where the roots are, but subsoil moisture so far is fine,” he said last week, before 1.90 inches of rain fell in the Lawrence area over the weekend.

It also is too early to tell what spring weather will bring to northeastern Kansas, said Dennis Cavanaugh, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Topeka. The Climate Prediction Center found equal chances for spring temperatures and precipitation to be normal, above normal or below normal.

“What that means is there is no really strong climate signal that pushes us toward looking wet or dry, hot or cold,” Cavanaugh said.

Weather forecasts over the next few days show there is hope for rain in southwestern Kansas, which typically is the highest wheat producer in the state, Fritz said.

“We do have opportunities over the next seven to 10 days,” she said. “It’s time for another drink of water.”

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