Archive for Thursday, November 20, 2003

Dry days: recent rainfall not enough to end drought

November 20, 2003

This week's rain provided some much-needed moisture for farmers' crops, although not enough.

"We're still very much in a drought," said Leon Stites, agriculture agent for the Leavenworth County Extension Office. "We're considerably behind for the year, and we haven't seen as much moisture as we need."

Most of the winter wheat has been planted and is growing, but it will need more rain to keep it from suffering the fate of the fall harvest crops. The drought has taken its toll on those crops, which are almost all harvested.

"Corn production was poor, soybeans actually in some areas of the county was better than I would've anticipated," Stites said. "Some vegetable production in the county has been impacted by the drought, as well."

Livestock has also felt the effects of a shortened water supply.

"The streams have not been running very much, and they've not been able to refill ponds," Stites said. "On the good side, cattle prices have been fair."

Following last year's drought conditions, this year's lowered crop production does not bode well for the state economy. Last year, drought made a $1.1 billion impact on crop production in Kansas.

Clint Boon, merchandiser with Bartlett and Co. grain elevator in Kansas City, Kan., said about 80 percent of the fall crops -- corn, soybeans and milo -- had been harvested, and the yield so far is less than last year.

"Keeping in mind that last year we were in a drought, compared to last year, yellow corn is about the same, soybeans are down 20 percent and milo is down 40 percent," Boon said.

Without more rain, the winter wheat could suffer the same fate. So far for the year, Leavenworth County's precipitation is down 7.6 inches, without November or December's average rainfall counted, state climatologist Mary Knapp said.

But those two months are not likely to improve the conditions.

"When we get in the winter months, there's little chance of moisture," Knapp said. "It's really hard to get moisture in the winter months to make up that fall deficit. That's when you need moisture for trees, shrubs, lawn and for the water table."

On average the county receives 39.51 inches of rain each year. So far, it's received 27.7. Even if the county receives normal rainfall for November and December, which is normally 4.21 inches, the drought will have left its mark.

"Winter moisture can keep it from getting worse, but it won't get us out of the deficit we're in now," Knapp said. "There is some outlook for wetter than normal weather, but it's pretty much confined to southeast Kansas. Hopefully we'll get at least normal moisture. That will help."

Still, she says keeping the drought from worsening is not the same as coming out of the drought.

"It's been raining, but it's not been raining enough," Knapp said. "In isolated spots, the rain has dumped a little more, but overall it's the same. There's certainly not enough moisture to pull us out of drought conditions."

In October, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius requested that U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman designate 73 Kansas counties as drought disaster areas to make agricultural producers in those counties eligible for low-interest loans. Leavenworth, Johnson and Wyandotte counties are among those counties.

"The value of this year's crop production losses due to drought is estimated to be as high as $275 million," Sebelius said in a written statement. "Many Kansas farmers are struggling to keep their operations viable because drought has decimated their crops the last three or four years."

Sebelius' request will take a couple of months for the agriculture secretary to process.

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