Written by Jerry Engler Wednesday, 21 March 2007 17:52You can make the case that things don’t look too bad for crops in Marion County this year, but all questions are overshadowed by the top issue that has dominated local farming throughout this decade—we need rain and we need it badly.
Marion County Extension Agent Rickey Roberts said top soil moisture is close to adequate now, “But we just don’t have much subsoil moisture yet. A lot of the snow we got ran off, the ground was so frozen. We didn’t get all of that moisture because it couldn’t penetrate, didn’t infiltrate. It helped. A little of it went into ponds, which we really needed.
“With the weather patterns we have, it’s possible to get rain. But, so far, it’s been isolated, too spotty. Many areas have been passed by.
“There’s a little area near Durham that had rain. There’s a swath of area looking good from Salina to Abilene that had rain, up to an inch or more. But right here, we just haven’t had enough.
“What I’m looking for is a good general rain that catches the whole area. Everybody’s getting ready to plant spring crops. We need that rain.”
The U.S. Weather Service lists south-central Kansas as remaining in a drought situation. The worst drought area begins on the Oklahoma border and gradually improves to moderately dry in central Dickinson County.
Many areas are listed with 7-inch to 14-inch annual deficits from last year. As of the weekend, the possibility of thunderstorms was predicted throughout the area.
Livestock producers are perhaps feeling the pinch from lack of rain in previous years more than anybody else. They are paying high prices both for grain feeds and hay, according to Roberts.
“There’s no cheap way left to feed cattle,” he added. “I don’t know for sure how much hay is available, but I think we’re essentially out of hay. Brome grass likes to get rain early to make cool-season growth. We’re hoping for a good hay year, and we need that brome to do it.
“The guys here are crying for anything to feed cattle. Basically the hay supply is shut down here on south down into Oklahoma and Texas. We’ve baled up more stocks than ever around here. We’ve put string around anything we can feed.”
What moisture there has been has been kind to the grain crop that’s already growing in the ground: the winter wheat planted last fall.
“The wheat looks pretty good in most places,” Roberts said. “There was some damage early on when grain mites were active in some fields. But there was little damage or stressing from it in most places. In my opinion, the wheat just needs rain.”
Most farmers are getting equipment ready for spring crop planting right now. Roberts said the normally first-planted of those crops, corn, will be planted soon. There have been several warm days, and temperatures are rising. Roberts noted that as soon as the critical soil temperature for corn (50 degree) is reached, there will be a rush to get the seed into the ground.
As for the crops that will come later, Roberts said rain will be the determining factor for months to come.