Late Spring Rains Welcome, But Drought Persists Across Much of Kansas
Date Posted: June 12, 2014
Manhattan, KS—Take one long drought that settled over Kansas for years.
Add several inches of rain over a few short weeks.
The result is the farmer's version of feast or famine.
Recent rain across Kansas may have come in time to help some of the drought-stressed wheat in northern counties, but too late in southern counties that are about to harvest, said Jim Shroyer, agronomy professor with Kansas State University.
"I never thought I'd see this – in a drought year, and we're approaching too much rain," said Shroyer, a wheat specialist with K-State Research and Extension, in describing the most recent weather system that dumped 3 inches or more in some areas.
"If there are green leaves left on wheat plants, the moisture helps.
"In other parts of the state it could delay harvest, and sprouting is even possible."
"An optimistic pessimist would say, 'it will rain, but it will rain during harvest.' The irony here has not been lost on producers," he said.
Much of Kansas and other Plains states have been locked in a drought for three years or more, but late-spring rains have eased conditions somewhat.
Still, the U.S. Drought Monitor on June 3 showed virtually the entire state experiencing abnormally dry to extreme drought conditions, with some areas in exceptional drought.
"It's been one tough year. The wheat is stressed," said Shroyer, adding that the drought had taken a toll on wheat that also was hit by spring freeze damage in some areas.
"Producers have said this is the worst the wheat has ever looked."
Shroyer, who traveled through north-central Kansas on June 10, said he'd even seen scab – a disease that favors wet conditions – on some wheat in Cloud and Clay counties – not so unusual in rainy years but highly unusual in drought years.
"I don't think it will be widespread, but it shows you even in dry years, if moisture hits at the right time, you can have a problem. What's good for wheat is also good for disease and vice versa," he said.
Kansas Agricultural Statistics (KAS) rated the Kansas wheat crop as of June 8 at 28 percent very poor, 35 poor, 26 fair, 10 good and 1 excellent.
Based on June 1 conditions, Kansas' 2014 winter wheat crop was forecast at 244 million bushels, down 24 percent from last year and the smallest since 1989, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The average yield was forecast at 29 bushels per acre, down 9 from last year and the lowest since 1996.
Moisture deficits persist across the state
"While some isolated locations saw significant rain in May, division and state-wide totals were well below average coming into June," said Mary Knapp, assistant climatologist for Kansas, referring to nine climatological divisions in Kansas.
"The southeast fared best, with a divisional average of 3.25 inches, but that was only 57 percent of normal for the month."
"West-central and southwest Kansas fared the worst," Knapp said.
"Both divisions averaged less than an inch for May – 0.93 inch to be exact. For west-central counties that translates to 29 percent of normal, and for southwest counties, 35 percent of normal."
"The rainfall has been welcome, but continued normal to above-normal precipitation is needed to reverse the long-term deficits," said Chip Redmond, manager of the Kansas Weather Data Library.
"Unfortunately, there is still quite a bit needed for recovery from the drought. Year-to-date state average precipitation is just 56 percent of normal.
"Also, much of the rain fell in a short period of time. This allowed for some runoff, which helped raise pond levels, but didn't allow for deep penetration to address the subsoil moisture deficit."
As of June 8, KAS rated topsoil moisture statewide at 17 percent very short, 25 short, 52 adequate and 6 surplus. Subsoil moisture was rated 29 percent very short, 37 short, 34 adequate and zero surplus.
Rain boosts row crop prospects
"The rain in the last couple of days will alleviate the drought conditions around the state and will provide a good starting point for all of the row crops," said Ignacio Ciampitti, crop production specialist with K-State Research and Extension.
Reports from Kansas Mesonet weather stations across the state show St. Francis in Cheyenne County received 3.40 inches of rain in the period May 1-June 8, while Tribune (Greeley County) received 2.16 inches. Hugoton (Stevens) received 1.93 inches; Jewell (Jewell County) 5.53; Hays (Ellis Co.) 2.65; and Anthony in Harper County, 4.84. Hiawatha (Brown County) received 6.49 inches; Olathe (Johnson) 3.99; and Columbus (Cherokee) 4.70.
As of June 8, KAS rated the newly emerged corn crop at 2 percent very poor, 6 percent poor, 45 fair, 42 good and 5 percent excellent.
Ninety-five percent of the crop had emerged, ahead of 89 percent last year but about the same as average.
"One of the most critical factors for corn during emergence is the uniformity of the seedlings. Uneven corn stands cause yield losses," said Ciampitti, noting that the main factors affecting uniformity are soil moisture, soil temperature, seeding depth and good seed-soil contact.
Planting dates are also a factor.
Soil temperature – preferably about 50 degrees Fahrenheit – is also a key factor in soybean emergence: "Although soybeans can emerge at lower temperatures, stand uniformity and the final number of plants can be compromised," said Ciampitti, who is conducting a study regarding soybeans and soil temperatures in diverse areas from central to eastern parts of the state.
KAS reported that 66 percent of the 2014 Kansas soybean crop had emerged as of June 8, ahead of 40 percent last year and 55 average.
The crop was rated 1 percent very poor, 2 poor, 45 fair, 47 good and 5 excellent.
The state's sorghum crop was 50 percent planted as of June 8 – the same as last year but behind 59 percent average, KAS reported. Emergence at 17 percent lagged 22 percent on that date in 2013 and 30 percent average.
Sorghum is one of those plants that can compensate and adjust to diverse environments, including moisture conditions, Ciampitti said.
The compensation process is governed by changes in the number of tillers, head size and final seed weight.
He encourages producers to determine their desired plant population based on average rainfall and expected growing conditions: "There is no need to go overboard."
In addition, producers should plant enough seed for their desired plant population, he said.
About 65-70 percent field germination is a good general rule to use.
"Think about using narrower row spacing to close the canopy sooner and potentially capture greater yields in yield environments of 70-90 bushels per acre or more," Ciampitti said.
"Planting date and hybrid selection are tied together and are related to the conditions experienced by sorghum plants during the late summer.
"Think about this before deciding your planting time and selecting a hybrid."
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