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Archive for Friday, March 25, 2011

Drought raising worries about Kansas wheat crop

March 25, 2011

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— Recent snowstorms that blanketed parts of Kansas aren't expected to help wheat farmers struggling with a lingering drought.

Except for a patch running north and south through central Kansas, much of the state is abnormally dry or in an extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. No improvement is expected through June, and the dry spell is expected to get worse in western Kansas.

The conditions have hurt the wheat crop, with nearly 40 percent rated in poor condition, according to the Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service. Only 25 percent of the crop is rated good, and 2 percent is in excellent condition.

Even if the rains come, it's likely most farmers in western Kansas won't have great crops, said Matt Overturf, grain manager for Skyland Grain, based in the Stanton County town of Johnson. Recent 85-degree days and strong winds haven't helped, he told The Hutchinson News on Thursday.

"It's just adding agony to misery," he said. "We haven't written it off yet, but we have to get some help pretty quick."

Farmers whose crops haven't emerged yet are getting close to a disaster, said Kent Martin, an agronomist with Kansas State University, although he said no one should give up.

For most, the crop that is going to grow has already emerged. According to a study done by extension employees in the late 1980s and early 1990s, crops that emerge in January will have only half the potential than if they emerged in the fall. Wheat emerged by April 1 had no yield during the study years, he said.

The last few weeks of warm weather should have forced the plants out of the ground, Martin said.

He said an excellent spring might yield a "worthwhile crop," he said, but if weather predictions for a dry spring are accurate, the western Kansas crop is in trouble.

Farmers like Lane County's Kendall Clark, however, are hoping they will get a crop to take advantage of high prices.

Two weeks ago near Dighton, Clark stood in a field covered with 12 inches of snow, optimistic that the moisture would help his bone-dry field. But earlier this week, Clark walked through barren ground where 40 mph winds were blowing the soil and his hope had begun to fade.

"It's March in the desert," he said. "One field has something that resembles a stand. The rest of them — it's still in debate. When I walked them last night with dirt blowing in my face, I wasn't optimistic at all then."

He said he can't remember a year where the wheat didn't even come out of the ground. If adjusters rule the acreage a disaster, some farmers might plant milo. But Clark said he won't plant seed this spring unless it rains.

"I don't think anyone wants to destroy it," he said. "We need a rain. Rain fixes everything."

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