Dry times could mean hard times for farmers

When you think of Kansas farmers and ranchers the words resilience and resolve come to mind. This is especially true as they look another year of drought squarely in the face.

Most crop and livestock producers believe 2018 is shaping up to be as dry as 2011 or 2012—once considered the peak of a long-term drought that started back in 2005.

As the calendar winds down on April, a month farmers and stockmen rely on for life giving rain, only a scattered few areas have received moisture of any significance since last fall.

The moisture that fell in late September and early October 2017 allowed Kansas farmers to sow their wheat in the ground, but since then little, if any moisture has materialized Today the wheat crop is in poor shape throughout most of Kansas.

Pastures remain brown and bone dry. Ponds contain little water, and some are dried up completely.

Winds whip through the dry-grass countryside at speeds between 40-70 mph. This means fires could ignite again. In some areas they already have.

Farmers and ranchers living in these tinder-box dry rural areas of Kansas suffer from anxiety right now for fear of another fire season. Many stockmen have changed how they do things to be a little more prepared.

Many manage their stocking rates carefully to squeeze the most out of their pastures without overgrazing. Some even delay feeding on windy days so cattle follow the feed truck to safety if a fire should break out. Others are culling their herds more closely already. Still others plan to cull cows down the road if it stays dry.

In Barber County, where the notorious Anderson Creek Fire burned nearly 400,000 acres in Kansas and Oklahoma in late March of 2016, burning restrictions were lifted in early April.

“A few controlled burns here and there have taken place throughout April,” according to veteran farmer stockman Dennis Ricke. He also serves as a volunteer fire fighter in Barber County.

In spite of the lifted burning restrictions a severe lack of moisture keeps many of these Kansas counties in a “High Fire Alert” status. Still, farmers and stockmen like Ricke continue to cling to faith. They believe every day is one closer to the next rain.

Kansas farmers and ranchers have been through such dry, dire conditions before. Sure, they’d rather see green pastures and full ponds every year, but that’s just not how weather conditions work in Kansas.

Most will cinch their belts a bit tighter and pull their hats down a little further and brace for whatever Mother Nature throws their way.

They will survive.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas.

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