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Drought forces changes




WOODSTON -- Farmer Jerry McReynolds won't be planting corn or soybeans in the coming weeks, unless moisture conditions change dramatically.

And soon.

Instead, he'll be planting drought-tolerant grain sorghum. His wheat's already in the ground.

In some respects, McReynolds reflects predictions issued Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Planting intentions suggest slightly smaller numbers of acres being planted to corn and soybeans in Kansas.

Across the nation, farmers are expected to beat records for corn and soybean acres planted, but it's a record built on the backs of Great Plains farmers who continue to struggle against drought.

Farmers nationally are expected to plant more than 97 million acres of corn this spring, with another 77.1 million acres of soybeans expected to be planted.

In Kansas, 4.6 million acres of corn are expected to be planted this spring, according to the USDA.

That's only a drop of 100,000 acres compared to last year.

It's the same for soybeans, with acreage expected to total 3.9 million acres.

With the drought, however, Kansas farmers should boost grain sorghum planting by nearly 300,000 acres, up from the 2.5 million acres planted last year.

Kansas farmers already planted 9.3 million acres of wheat, a drop of 200,000 acres.

For McReynolds, his farm's rotation schedule didn't allow him much wiggle room in terms of wheat planting.

But he's dramatically altering his corn and soybean prospects.

"There's going to be less corn planted in our part of the country," he said. "I'm going to go all grain sorghum. We don't have the subsoil moisture."

McReynolds said conditions vary depending on where farms are located and how much moisture has been received.

On his farm, where dryland farming reigns supreme, he's not planning on any corn or soybeans this year -- unless conditions change soon.

"We are dry," he said. "There's no point. We try to grow something."

McReynolds was rankled recently when an environmental group looking at crop insurance costs suggested farmers pray for drought rather than rain.

Not so, he said.

"That does get my dander up," he said "We try to plan and try to use the best management we can considering the amount of moisture we have. On dryland, we go with the crop that we have a chance with."

This year, that means grain sorghum.

"Sorghum is a pretty tough crop," he said.

For McReynolds, corn planting typically starts in mid- to late-April.

It's not just crops that will need moisture, he said.

"It's going to have to rain pretty quick, or we're not going to get grass to grow," McReynolds said. "We're going to have one little flush because we had some snow."

Still, he's worried the moisture might not be coming anytime soon.

"You don't come out of a severe drought like we're in overnight," he said of recent observations he heard from one of several climatologists. "He was talking about coming out in 2014. I hope he's wrong."