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Southwest Kansas wheat devastated by drought


Last week saw much needed rainfall across the state, but areas in southwest Kansas missed out on it once again. Much of southwest Kansas has gone nearly 300 days without an inch of precipitation. Annual average rainfall is about 12” in southwest Kansas, and much of the area has seen about 1/3 of that over the past year and less than an inch since wheat was planted in the fall. 

There are several counties in the far southwest corner of Kansas where very little wheat will make it to harvest. Farmers have already been in touch with their crop adjusters, and fields are being adjusted from zero to 5 bushels per acre across the area. 

Lack of rainfall since fall planting, combined with vicious winds throughout the winter have taken a toll on the wheat and the soil. 

No-till farmers have had to chisel the soil to bring up clods to hold the topsoil in place. 

Gary Millershaski, who farms north of Lakin in Kearny County, is on the north edge of the worst areas. Several of his fields won’t go to harvest, but others will provide below average yields. Many farmers in the area didn’t apply full rates of topdress nitrogen to maximize the wheat’s potential because of limited rainfall and high input prices. 

To the north in Wichita County, Rick Horton, who farms south of Leoti, has been fortunate enough to catch some of the rains. His family grows seed wheat, and except for fields lost due to a large fire in December, much of his wheat still has potential. 

Traveling west on Highway 400 toward Syracuse paints a grimmer picture. North of Syracuse, wheat is holding on for more rain in May. South and west of Syracuse, the wheat, which should be green and growing right now, is thin and brown. 

At Skyland Grain in Johnson, Justin Ochs reports there isn’t much optimism in the area right now. Skyland’s Agronomy department is waiting on farmers to make the decision to start planting fall crops. They are holding out, waiting and desperately hoping for some moisture to get those crops started. 

Farther west in Stanton County, Jim Sipes, who farms and grows seed wheat west of Manter, paints a bleak picture. A trip to his seed operation shows open soil with only a few wheat plants scattered across. Treated wheat seeds that were drilled last fall scatter the soil, as they never even sprouted last fall. What did emerge has very little root structure. The emerged plants didn’t come up until the last couple weeks, missing out on winter vernalization. With the exception of just a couple fields, all of Sipes’ wheat is lost. The adjuster came out a couple weeks ago and much has been zeroed out completely or has been adjusted to just 1 or 2 bushels per acre. Now he is left with the painfully impossible decision of whether to destroy the wheat and plant grain sorghum into exceptionally dry conditions or to leave the wheat plants in place in an attempt to keep the soil from blowing in the vicious daily up to 70 mile per hour winds. He wonders if he will be able to secure wheat seed from other growers to provide it to his customers. 

The story remains the same through Elkhart, Rolla and Hugoton — empty fields spattered with a few wheat plants here and there. Brown soils with meager brown wheat plants scatter the landscape. 

However, heading east toward highway 23, conditions start to improve. The wheat fields show signs of life, green wheat plants start showing up closer together. Looking down the rows, there’s definitely an upgrade in conditions. This area has seen scattered showers over the last few weeks. Meade has only gone 12 days without .10 of moisture, compared to 94 days in Richfield. 

Tyler Ediger, who farms with his family south of Meade, reported that it has been a “rough winter.” The crop is behind and the heads have fewer spikelets than last year. The wheat is short, with small flag leaves and residue is shorter than they need for next year’s crops. The continuous crop wheat doesn’t look good, but the wheat on fallow ground isn’t too bad. On the upside, Ediger said they didn’t have to chisel their no-till ground, like so many farmers did to control blowing soil. They missed out on last week's rain, and they need another inch or two of moisture to finish the crop out. This week’s weather forecast calls for 90 degree temperatures and more wind. This will likely push them into harvest ahead of last year’s timeline. 

The Wheat Quality Council will host the Hard Winter Wheat Tour May 16-19. Participants will scout fields from Manhattan to Colby to Wichita and back to Manhattan. Follow #wheattour22 on Twitter to see what conditions they see across Kansas, southern Nebraska and northern Oklahoma.