Archive for Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Concern grows over crops, drought conditions in western Kansas

December 7, 2010

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— As drought conditions continue to expand -- now nearly covering the entire western third of the state -- there's growing concern about the future of crops to be planted next spring.

There's also concern that with spotty stands of wheat -- in Ness County perhaps as much as 60 percent of the crop hasn't emerged -- winter winds could stir up blowing dust.

"We're going back into a scary time," said Gary Gantz, whose family business, Bondurant Grain, is at the forefront in terms of feeling the effects of grain production.

He said it's so dry in Ness County that nearly two-thirds of the 2011 wheat crop hasn't emerged, simply waiting for enough moisture for seeds to sprout.

"That doesn't mean we can't raise a good crop," he said.

But it does mean that conditions will have to be ideal if that is to happen.

First, there needs to be enough moisture to get the crop up and going so that it can survive through the winter.

Then, it will need good spring weather so the grain can fill.

While that has been the case over the last several years, conditions today are the worst they've been since 2006.

"That wheat crop was our best and that was at the end of a five-year drought cycle for us," Gantz said.

Ness County isn't alone in suffering from the effects of an expanding and intensifying drought.

Currently, all or part of 22 Kansas counties are in the middle of a moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Most of the rest of the western half of Kansas is considered abnormally dry.

"We've been dry," said Jerry McReynolds, a Woodston farmer and president of the trade group, National Association of Wheat Growers.

"We went for two months without any rain right in the time we really needed it," he said. "We went through summer with very little rain and very hot conditions."

That lack of rain and persistent heat wilted crops that used up the last of the subsoil moisture available.

"I'm concerned," McReynolds said. "I've very concerned. We're not going into winter in very good shape."

Gantz is concerned as well, as poor winter conditions could make it difficult when spring planting times arrive.

"Every part of the county has a spot where it's in nice shape," he said of places that picked up a small shower or two. But other areas are struggling.

It's been that way all summer, so much so that Gantz said he suspects the average corn yield in Ness County was only about 30 bushels to the acre.

"Our milo was a little bit better," he said. "It hung on. Our corn was just awful. It was just too hot and dry for it.

"And boy, I didn't think that hot weather would go away."

With the dry ground and a lack of cover in fields planted to wheat, there's danger of blowing soil.

"I'm really worried about the ground blowing this winter," Gantz said.

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