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The farm community badly needs a wetter winter

View from Rural Route 8

By Jim Suber

And now the experts are saying that it appears that many of us west of the Mississippi will have to hope for a much wetter than normal spring to put enough moisture into the ground to plant for next fall’s crops.

The federal government has downgraded its earlier forecast for a wetter, better autumnal and winter moisture-giving period to one of hoping for a change come spring, 2013.

Around these parts in northeast Kansas and most of the rest of the state, that is really poor news. We know of lots of friends and neighbors who have been hauling water for months, now, just to water their cattle and some for their households. The drought is not something to shrug off and say all we need is a good rain. It will take more than that. Some places in wetter states than this have fallen 12 and more inches of moisture behind during the last five quarters.

Ponds are dry. There is little or no more moisture in the subsoil for deep-rooted trees and grasses. Many old shallow wells have long since gone dry. Rivers are skinny ribbons. Creeks that harbored small bait fish have been bone dry for weeks.

There was one good thing. Many area soybean fields received some rain weeks ago just in time to put on some pods and fill them, even if there were “green beans” in the mix. Some of those fields made more than 20 bushels an acre, a fantastic achievement after standing podless all summer. There was also some corn in some fields, but it was interesting that some irrigated yields had huge differences inside the same circles.

One grower’s relative reported that this phenomenon reached an 80-bushel difference, the lesser yields being on the prevailing windward sides of the field, where the 100-degrees-plus air was driven across the blanching plants at high speeds relentlessly for days. Small wonder there were big differences in the same fields.

A custom harvester, Mike Strunk of Strunk Harvesting based in Silver Lake, KS, talked about some things in general. He still had crews working near the Canadian border cutting corn. The beans had come earlier than usual up north, where yields were good for both corn and beans. He had another month to go, he thought, and that was just a few days ago we visited. His machines in eastern Kansas were cutting soybeans.

Everyone had just had a pretty hard freeze, and many of customers called him to ask him to combine those beans as soon as possible following the freeze. Mike said a lot of farmers in extreme northeast Kansas had good crops this year, particularly in the northern tier of counties. Many of us living nearer to east central Kansas had indeed noticed the rains that missed us often watered the northernmost counties.

Already the experts and spokesmen are saying we cannot very well withstand another dry growing year. That would be three in a row. Some day it will rain again. Oh, and the world probably won’t go hungry just yet. New corn varieties are now planted in places like the regions of the old Soviet Union and in China and South America, and the latter area is poised now to take over the No. 1 position of soybean producer from our farmers. With the expected rise in world population, we’re going to eat it all.









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