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SPOTLIGHT
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Some moisture arrives -- much more needed

Published on -9/11/2013, 9:52 AM

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Rainfall during the end of July and the first week of August has provided hope for farmers and cattlemen across Kansas -- even in the far western corners of the state.

As southwestern Kansas farmers prepare for fall wheat seeding, there are more happy faces than during the last couple years, but that's not to say some areas don't need moisture.

"I don't believe we're out of the drought by any means," says Stevens County farmer Ben McClure. "I know we haven't gone back to a wet period. We were just blessed to have rain when we needed it badly."

McClure received five inches of rain on his farm during the first week of August. Stevens County averages 17 inches of moisture annually. Most farmers in this county are still at least 12 inches shy and in many cases more.

The rains that fell in early August were spotty. A couple miles south of McClure's fields, thirsty crops received half about two inches. Two miles north, even less.

For those dry-land wheat farmers in this region of Kansas, the rains have given them the prospect of planting wheat this fall. Many haven't harvested a crop here in three years.

"Maybe we can get it up," McClure says. "That wasn't the case before the rain."

If, and this is a big if, these wheat growers receive another half, three-quarters or even a full inch of rain between now and the end of October, dry-land wheat will have a good chance of getting up and going heading into the winter.

"Just the possibility of planting, growing and harvesting a dry-land wheat crop would be great," McClure says. "After three years of little, if any moisture, the early August rains allowed everything out here to take a deep breath."

From a soil conservation point of view, these summer rains were a real "life saver."

Farmers like McClure were able to go into fields that hadn't grown a crop for three years and plant a crop to cover the bare soil. Watching the precious top soil blow during this three year drought has been especially painful with no residue to hold the soil in place.

Last winter, the Stevens County farmer watched the soil blow down to the hardpan -- a layer of soil so compacted that neither plant roots nor water can penetrate.

That's gut-wrenching. It leaves a scar on a farmer and the land.

This year will be different, thanks to the summer rain.

"We planted some feed on some of our land after we received the moisture," McClure says. "If we hadn't received the rain, the crop wouldn't have grown."

Instead, the feed crop covers the land and stands between three and four feet high.

The pheasants are enjoying the feed and cover, McClure says. He's hoping for a couple good hunts in November.

This year even the road sides sport green weeds. Last year was totally brown.

"The pigweed and kochia are doing well since the rain," McClure says. "It's even been nice to see some weeds grow in places."

When's the last time you heard a farmer talk about "liking" the looks of weeds on his land?

Troubled times and conditions lend themselves to unlikely conversation, especially in western Kansas during a prolonged drought. Let's just hope and pray these farmers receive the much needed rain they are desperate for.

Hoxie native John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas who writes for the Kansas Farm Bureau.

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