Garden City Gov. Sam Brownback traveled to southwest Kansas on Wednesday to see the effects of drought on crops, pastures and communities, having already asked the federal government for help.
After his state plane touched down in Garden City, the governor had meetings scheduled with officials and farmers from Gray, Haskell and Meade counties. He also was opening the 3i Show, a three-day, agribusiness event organized by the Western Kansas Manufacturers Association.
"Farmers and ranchers in dozens of Kansas counties are experiencing production losses caused by drought, wildfires and high winds," Brownback said. "We want to have a clear understanding of what's happening and how the state can work with these communities in the coming months."
The visit follows Brownback's request last week to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare 21 counties a disaster area and trigger federal assistance. The governor, a former state agriculture secretary, said it is important for officials to see the impact firsthand and talk to the people who have been directly affected.
Mary Knapp, state climatologist at Kansas State University, said parts of southwest Kansas haven't received significant rainfall since the summer of 2010, creating dire conditions for wheat and other crops.
"We don't get too excited about having a dry period in our winter months, because we don't get a lot of our moisture in the winter," Knapp said. "But when you get half of nothing, it does get to be a critical thing."
From September through April, Knapp said western Kansas received an average of 3.71 inches of rain, including 1.06 that fell in April. Normal precipitation is 8.07 inches of rain.
"Some places have seen less than that," Knapp said.
Knapp said the drought began early in the wheat-growing season, with little moisture to help the crop get started. The conditions continued into the early spring. Despite recent rains, she said, the crop has received barely half the normal precipitation.
"At this point you might get enough moisture that the insurers will require you to harvest the crop to prove that it was as bad as you said it was," she said. "You might get one to 10 bushels, when normal is 50 to 60 bushels."
Knapp said farmers will have to incur fuel and wage expenses to harvest a crop that will have little value at market, just to qualify for disaster assistance.
More rainfall could be on the horizon, Knapp said. Weather forecasts show areas west of Salina have an equal chance of receiving normal rainfall through the summer months. Those areas east of Salina, Knapp said, are forecast to be cooler and wetter than normal.