Purchase photos

Doomed: Drought cripples wheat, pastures





LIEBENTHAL -- Ever aware of the weather around him, Bill Legleiter is looking forward to this week's chance for rain.

Never mind the 24 acres of wheat he was discing under just north of Liebethal was the item uppermost on his thoughts Monday afternoon.

"It's going to rain this weekend," he said.

He didn't flinch when pressed about an earlier comment about the field's dry conditions.

"Enough to make a difference," he said of the prospects for rain. "You've got to be optimistic."

In this field, that's a pretty tall order, although with less than an inch falling in the seven months since the wheat was planted, nearly anything is an improvement.

It won't help the wheat he was "putting out of its misery," he said, but it will get the field ready for next year -- words a farmer lives by.

The wheat Legleiter was working to destroy had fallen victim to the drought.

"In this area right here, in the last seven months, including snow and everything, we've had less than an inch," he said of moisture.

The stand of wheat showed it -- plants less than a foot tall and thin, the tillers dying off to leave a single stalk of wheat to produce seed.

Legleiter had planned to bale the crop, but it's so short, the header on the swather couldn't get low enough.

"The worst thing about this is the grass for the cattle," he said of the drought.

There were a few animals from his herd grazing nearby, but the stocking rate is sharply below what it would be normally.

And they're going to pastures that weren't grazed last year.

Legleiter's doing all he can to keep from selling his herd, and that includes feeding what little feed he's got left.

"I've got 30 days of a good feed supply left," he said. "Then I've probably got 30 days of straw windbreak material after that and minerals."

So, he's hoping that will let him keep his herd together through June and July.

He's ready to do what he can to keep intact the genetics he's invested in his herd.

But if that doesn't work?

"We have friends out of state that will help us out," Legleiter said. "Our ranch is well-known, so hopefully we can ship out of state and keep our genetics together."

His other wheat fields are in slightly better shape, and because they have crop insurance, he expects he'll have to cut them.

"The nice thing about wheat is the insurance," he said.

He suspects, however, the other fields might make only 10 to 12 bushels per acre.