Late Spring Rains Welcome, But Drought Persists Across Much of Kansas

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Take one long drought that settled over Kansas for years. Add several inches of rain over a few short weeks. The result is the farmer's version of feast or famine.

Recent rain across Kansas may have come in time to help some of the drought-stressed wheat in northern counties, but too late in southern counties that are about to harvest, said Jim Shroyer, agronomy professor with Kansas State University.

"I never thought I'd see this – in a drought year, and we're approaching too much rain," said Shroyer, a wheat specialist with K-State Research and Extension, in describing the most recent weather system that dumped 3 inches or more in some areas. "If there are green leaves left on wheat plants, the moisture helps. In other parts of the state it could delay harvest, and sprouting is even possible."

"An optimistic pessimist would say, 'it will rain, but it will rain during harvest.' The irony here has not been lost on producers," he said.

Much of Kansas and other Plains states have been locked in a drought for three years or more, but late-spring rains have eased conditions somewhat.

Still, the U.S. Drought Monitor on June 3 showed virtually the entire state experiencing abnormally dry to extreme drought conditions, with some areas in exceptional drought.

"It's been one tough year. The wheat is stressed," said Shroyer, adding that the drought had taken a toll on wheat that also was hit by spring freeze damage in some areas. "Producers have said this is the worst the wheat has ever looked."

Shroyer, who traveled through north-central Kansas on June 10, said he'd even seen scab – a disease that favors wet conditions – on some wheat in Cloud and Clay counties – not so unusual in rainy years but highly unusual in drought years.

"I don't think it will be widespread, but it shows you even in dry years, if moisture hits at the right time, you can have a problem. What's good for wheat is also good for disease and vice versa," he said.

Kansas Agricultural Statistics (KAS) rated the Kansas wheat crop as of June 8 at 28 percent very poor, 35 poor, 26 fair, 10 good and 1 excellent.

Based on June 1 conditions, Kansas' 2014 winter wheat crop was forecast at 244 million bushels, down 24 percent from last year and the smallest since 1989, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The average yield was forecast at 29 bushels per acre, down 9 from last year and the lowest since 1996.

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