Drought-stricken wheat crop also hit by freeze, meaning a devastating year for Kansas wheat farmers
The Kansas state song might have you presume that it’s great that the skies are always sunny.
But in southwest Kansas, where the only clouds on most days are billowing dust from the Kansas wind, a few rain clouds would be a welcome sight.
I ventured to Grant County last week – kicking up dust as I walked through a stark field of winter wheat. The view at my feet was was a sparse and stunted crop because of the lack of rainfall. Stands were barely a foot high. Farmer Anthony Stevenson, my tour guide, grabbed his shovel trying to dig deep into the earth to find even a hint a moisture. All he produced was dry soil.
While we are finally getting some rain here in Hutchinson and in the eastern half of Kansas – the situation is a 180 in the western half. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows this section of the state in an extreme to exceptional drought — the highest ranks by the agency.
Stevenson estimates his dryland will make less than 10 bushel an acre. But the Grant County farmer had a double whammy this year. His irrigated wheat was hit by freeze. He figures at the most he’ll make just 18 bushels an acre on that crop.
These are just one of the scars on this swath of Kansas prairie where rain comes tightfisted. Ponds are dry, irrigation wells aren’t pumping to capacity. The Ogallala Aquifer, it seems, is shrinking faster as more instigators rely on it as their only source of water.
In the past year, dust has blown off Stevenson’s neighbors fields and lined the edges of his own wheat fields just like snow.
“The only problem is, it doesn’t melt,” he said.
Like any farmer, he stays optimistic. You have to be positive when there are so many things you can’t control.
Like the weather.
But it’s getting harder as Stevenson and others in the area embark on year three of a drought.
“My dad would always say it will rain when you really, really need it,
” he said. “But I really, really needed rain for a long, long time.”