Rains end drought, but new concerns grow for crops

Rain runoff ponding in corn and soybean fields has been a common sight throughout much of the past month and a half when Marion County received more than 20 inches of moisture in a series of storms and showers.
Rain runoff ponding in corn and soybean fields has been a common sight throughout much of the past month and a half when Marion County received more than 20 inches of moisture in a series of storms and showers.
The drought that has plagued Marion County and the central Kansas region for more than two years is officially over, thanks to the more than 20 inches of rain that has fallen here over the past four to six weeks.

?There is that old saying that it takes a flood to break a drought,? said Rickey Roberts, the county?s K-State Extension agent for agriculture. ?I think in this case, that?s true.?

Roberts is in good company.

The most recent map from the U.S. Drought Monitor, dated Aug. 13, shows that Marion County is in the heart of a drought-free region that includes most of the eastern half of Kansas.

Meanwhile, drought still lingered in the western one-third to one-half of Kansas, with a good portion of northwest Kansas still in ?extreme? to ?exceptional? drought.

Rain-related challenges

Kansass Drought Map
Kansass Drought Map
But the frequent and significant rainfall here has brought challenges for farmers and ranchers in the county.

The most visible challenge to casual observers is fields of corn and soybeans that were still standing in water last week.

?In some of our flatter fields, where water is still standing and ponding a little bit?crops can only take that so long,? Roberts said. ?Then they run out of oxygen and they will begin to go backward on us.

?I?m not seeing too much of that yet,? he added. ?But it can happen. We need the ground to start drying a little bit, for sure.?

Rather than fall crops, Roberts, farmers and other ag specialists are most concerned at the moment about next year?s wheat crop.

?The biggest concern I have, as I see it today, is that it?s been so long since we?ve been able to get into fields,? Roberts said. ?(The problem is) controlling the volunteer wheat.?

?We can?t control the volunteer right now, and that leads to aphids and that leads to diseases for next year?s wheat crop.?

Window is closing

It?s not too late for farmers and agricultural sprayers to kill the volunteer wheat before planting, but the window of opportunity is narrowing.

?We say ideally we?d like that volunteer wheat to be dead for about a month before we plant wheat,? Roberts said. ?That gives time basically to drive all those aphids out of there before we have new wheat or new green-up.

?It?s not too late, but we?re now in the middle of August, and I?m not sure when we?re going to get back into the fields,? he added. ?Depending on where you?re at, we (in the Hillsboro area) got another inch (early last week), and some places by Marion got more than inch.

?I think it?s easy to say it?s going to be at least two weeks before we can get into a field anywhere,? Roberts said. ?All of a sudden that puts us almost to the first of September before we?re able to get in,? Roberts said.

?If we follow that rule?which we?re not going to this year?of having it sprayed a month before we plant, that puts us planting the first of October.

?I?ve got plenty of guys who want to plant wheat before the first of October.?

That?s the possible scenario for no-till farmers, Roberts noted.

?If you?re trying to till that ground, you need time to get that ground ready,? he said. ?And we?re a ways from being able to start that process right now.?

Sprayers waiting, too

Two area providers of spraying services said they might be able to get into some area fields a little sooner than two weeks if the rain holds off.

?It?s going to be at least a week before we?ll be able to start doing some,? said Brian Nickel, crop specialist for Cooperative Grain & Supply. ?But it?s probably a few weeks to cover all parts of a field.?

Jeff Mayfield of Ag Service Inc. said, ?North and northwest of Durham has probably had less rain as anywhere?I was up there yesterday and it?s still just tremendously muddy.

?The rule of thumb is as long as we get it killed at least two weeks before planting wheat?we?ve got a little time there.?

Mayfield said Ag Service has been in contact with aerial sprayers in the region as an alternative to on-ground applicators.

?The ones that will put Roundup (herbicide) in an airplane, they?re pretty tied up in other regions,? he said. ?So that hasn?t been very successful.?

For now, professional applicators can?t do much more than join the many farmers waiting for drier ground.

?We?re making plans with customers, because a lot of this volunteer wheat was going to get worked,? Mayfield said. ?We?re all just trying to figure out what to do and when we can do it. That?s the main thing.?

Nickel agrees. He said the crew at CG&S isn?t twiddling thumbs these days, but ?we?re about to that point.?

Fall-crop issues

A stretch of dry weather would certainly benefit fall crops, which have a timetable of their own.

?Some of the corn was planted later than normal (this year),? Nickel said. ?With the cool weather, it?s still doing really well?it?s going to be a good quality corn crop?but it?s going to be a month or two behind than when we were cutting last year.

?And it?s going to be harder to get the wheat in behind some of the fall crops that are growing out there.?

Meanwhile, in some corn fields, stalks have started to lean because of the combination of wind and saturated soil.

Roberts said the varieties of corn seed planted in this area are somewhat different from the seed planted elsewhere in the corn belt.

?Traditionally, we don?t deal with this (amount of rain),? he said. ?So we can plant varieties here that have more of what I call a fiberous root system.

?If you go back into the corn belt…they plant varieties that have a little more of a deeper root system. They?re used to dealing with wet soils and (farmers) don?t want that corn to pull up (out of the ground).

?We plant more of a fiberous system that has a tendency to spread itself out, but not necessarily go all the way down because we?re not used to dealing these wet kinds of soils.?

Corn can be vulnerable to diseases, too.

?The truth of the matter is that all of this water can also bring in some diseases, and that?s a kind of thing we typically don?t deal with or have to think much about,? he said.

Some corn and soybean fields are showing the effects of standing water.

?We?re starting to see everything in the low spots starting to give up and die here this past week,? Nickel said. ?It?s hurting, but overall it?s still better than drought.?

Beef producers

The producers feeling the least negative consequences of bountiful rain may be ranchers with cattle grazing on the range.

?The grass is hanging on good,? Roberts said. ?My guess is that the pasture to range condition is great and the ponds are full.?

The only potential threat Roberts could identify is insects.

?With standing water, you could have increased pests, as in flies and mosquitoes,? Roberts said. ?If we get a little sunshine, they?re already reproducing, but it?ll just explode.

?Is it causing a problem? Maybe. From a livestock standpoint, at least on the range, that?s more the issue.?

Of course, cattle producers who raise their animals in confined areas face a whole different challenge.

?If you have cattle in pens, then, yeah, you?re fighting an awful lot of mud,? Roberts said. ?Obviously, if we have any kind of confined feeding operation, then you have to fight mud and slop?and that affects performance and a lot of things.?

Even with all the potential challenges, Roberts said he doesn?t regret the relative deluge of rainfall the area has received over the past several weeks.

?Without question, we prefer this to what we had the last two years.?