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SPOTLIGHT
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Wicked winds

Published on -5/28/2014, 9:55 AM

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Most Kansas farmers and ranchers have seen about everything. Still the sight of the white combine headed for a wheat crop or soil leaving the home is enough to make their blood run cold.

That's just what April and May have ushered into the Sunflower State -- day after day of winds 20, 30 and 40 miles per hour with gusts more than 60 miles per hour.

These winds never quit. They're relentless.

Traditionally, Kansas winds slow when the sun goes down. Not the last few months. All across the state, winds continue to howl long into the night and strengthen when the sun rises the next day.

"I've never seen this kind of wind in my lifetime," said Joe Newland, Wilson County farmer. "A couple weeks ago, the day turned dark and you couldn't see to drive in a few areas."

Newland grows corn, soybeans, wheat and some hay while running approximately 350 head of momma cows in southeastern Kansas. He's farmed nearly 50 years.

Winds in his region of the state sometimes blow for a day or two in a small field or section of a field. Never for too long or too strong, but that's not the case this spring.

It's blown for days on end throughout the entire county, Newland said. In fact, it's blown across the entire southeastern part of Kansas.

"You see plenty during a lifetime," the 60-year-old farmer/stockman said. "But when you see the soil blow off your farm, it's like getting hit in the gut. It's a harsh feeling when you can't do anything about it.

During previous years when the winds kicked up and started to blow, Newland would hook a rotary hoe behind his tractor and run strips across the blowing land breaking the soil into clods that would stop the dirt from blowing.

Wind-control measures haven't worked as well this year, but farmers keep trying. Plain and simple, there just hasn't been enough moisture.

Spring rains in April totaled 1 inch and 50 hundredths across his fields this spring. Little precipitation has fallen so far in May. Typically, southeastern Kansas receives the most rain in the state during this time frame.

"Most years, we receive several rains of 2 and 3 inches in March, April and May," the veteran farmer/stockman says.

These abundant rains fill farm ponds and pave the way for plenty of pasture growth and healthy corn, bean and milo crops. This year, unfortunately, a few pond levels have dropped nearly 50 percent.

While his cow herd still has enough grass, due to the lack of rain his fescue isn't the lush green color it typically is.

"Some of it's turning that off-green color," Newland says. "Our grass needs rain."

While this region of the state looks great compared to western Kansas, the grass in Wilson and Neosho counties is about half the height it typically grows to in mid-May. Grass 6 inches tall is the norm so far this spring rather than 8, 10 or 12 inches.

Cropping conditions continue to suffer as well. Corn is below average in maturity and doesn't look as lush and healthy as it should.

"We're getting a taste of what farmers and ranchers in central and western Kansas have coped with for many years," Newland said. "It's a taste we don't much care for."

Oftentimes fall crops in southeastern Kansas receive too much moisture with spring rains. Then flooding can occur and wash away corn and bean crops.

Not so this year. While Newland hasn't planted his soybeans yet, it's drier than it typically is this time of year. He would sure like to see a couple of 2-inch rains before he pulls his planter into the fields.

Having farmed for four decades, Newland is far from throwing in the towel. He knows the weather can change in a heartbeat. He hope and prays his farm and that of his friends and neighbors across Kansas will be blessed with rain and soon.

And those wicked winds?

Shhh. Listen. Are they dying down?

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.

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