Even with one plentiful rainfall, farmers still skeptical about fall crops

By Corene Brisendine

The agricultural community praised the rain from last weekend with tongue in cheek. Last weekend, Manhattan saw 2.11 inches of rain. Although it gave August a surplus of .19 inches for the month, it put only a slight dent in the rainfall deficit for the year, raising it to 9.29 inches below normal. While it helped the harvest of some fall crops, the moisture was too little, to late to help the corn crop.

“It won’t help corn right now,” said Ken Diehl, crop production manager for Riley County Coop. “It is what it is.”

Diehl said while it was too late for corn, some of the soybeans still have a chance. He said those beans that were put in late have not yet filled their pods, and the rain may have changed that. The corn crop represents about 40 percent of the fall harvest and soybeans make up about 50 percent, he said. The last 10 percent is sorghum.

Greg McClure, Riley County Extension agriculture agent, said moisture is needed in order for crops such as with soybeans and sorghum, also called milo, to produce seeds. He said if the plants mature before the first freeze, farmers will get a decent crop.

But if the freeze arrives before the soybeans can be harvested, farmers may lose those crops too.

“We will certainly see some yield benefit to the rain,” McClure said. “We hope those pods will benefit before a freeze.”

Diehl said the rain might have also helped sorghum growers for the same reason as soybean growers. He said that due to the rain, the sorghum that is ready to be harvested must wait to dry out, and with crops in the same field-some headed and some still growing-caused the total harvest to be pushed back until the newly headed crops can mature; thereby giving growers larger yields that originally anticipated.

“It may help out the grain sorghum growers,” Diehl said. “For those that hadn’t headed out, it will push the harvest back.”

Diehl also said the rain may allow farmers to plant more alfalfa to use as a supplement to the already short supply of hay for cattle. He said that before it was too dry to plant, but now the soil is wet enough to put in a fall hay crop. McClure agreed with Diehl.

“If anything we needed the moisture to establish a seed bed to plant into,” McClure said. “So rather than planting into dust, we are planting into moist soil.”

Mark Scott, president of Riley County Farm Bureau and a local farmer and rancher, said that while the rain was good for crops, it wasn’t enough to help the cattle.

“We didn’t have any run-off,” Scott said. “We don’t have any water in our ponds.”

Scott compared the rain to a double-edged sword. It was actually bad for corn farmers trying to salvage what they can of the crop because it became too wet to cut.

On the other hand, the water was good for allowing those who already harvested to plant hay and grasses.

He said it was great for planting Brome, a cool season grass grown in this area for hay and grazing in the fall. Diehl said ranchers are feeling the pinch from this summer’s drought in feeding their cattle.

“This allows us to keep a constant supply of grain for ranchers, allowing them to save some of the hay,” Diehl said. “They have a short supply already.”

According to the Kansas Cattleman’s Association, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack extended emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres for an additional two months. This will give ranchers another resource to feel their cattle in the coming months as alfalfa, brome, and sorghum mature. According to the National Agricultural Statistical Service Pottawatomie County led the state in highest beef cow inventories with 27,500 head as of Jan.1.

For winter wheat planting, McClure said the rain was a good thing because the farmers needed get rid of volunteer wheat. Volunteer wheat grows when the wheat harvested earlier falls back into the soil, allowing the wheat to grow again on its own. He said farmers usually burn volunteer wheat off in order to get rid of it before planting their winter wheat crop.

“That’s what farmers are doing right now,” McClure said. “You can see the smoke from farms in the area. They are burning off the volunteer wheat.”

The wheat itself is less a problem than the curl mites that usually live on it. McClure said the mites carry a virus that causes the wheat crop to die. He said farmers typically lose about 25 percent of their crop to the virus. McClure describes the mites as “the vector for Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus.”

Even though the rain helped, Kansas is not out of the woods yet. “We’ll need more from this point on to build our reserves back up,” Scott said. “Of course, we don’t want all that at once.”

The National Weather Service has predicted isolated thunderstorms for this weekend, but it shouldn’t dampen everyone’s spirits. By Labor Day, it predicts the sun to be shining and the rain a fond memory.

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