No. 1: Area suffers through one of driest years on record

12/31/2011

Editor's Note: This is the final in a series of 10 stories counting down The Telegram's top 10 stories of 2011 as chosen by The Telegram staff.

Editor's Note: This is the final in a series of 10 stories counting down The Telegram's top 10 stories of 2011 as chosen by The Telegram staff.

BY RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

In 2011, it was drier in Finney County than it was during the Dustbowl of the 1930s.

The hot sun, lack of precipitation and high winds stripped soil of moisture this year. The drought had crippling effects on agricultural industries including wheat harvest, corn harvest and cattle.

The drought continues on and the moisture received in last week's foot of snow only amounted to about a half-inch of precipitation, according to Mary Knapp, state climatologist.

In August, Garden City tied its record to the most triple-digit days on record for a year, according to NWS.

As of Aug. 19, Garden City had more than 39 days of triple-digit weather in 2011.

John McClelland, chief executive officer for the Garden City Co-op, estimated in July that Garden City Co-op took about 35 to 40 percent less grain than usual. In 2010, the co-op took 13 million bushels of wheat, and this year McClelland said it'll be about 4.5 million bushels.

Based on the price of wheat in July, McClelland estimated Garden City Co-op's location would lose about $50 million worth of wheat after this year's harvest.

Many relied on crop insurance to make up the difference, he said.

McClelland said a poor harvest has a trickle-down effect.

He said custom harvesters didn't stay around the area as long, eating in restaurants and using campgrounds, pumping money into the area. He said some truck and tractor dealers may not have sold as many vehicles and machines this year. Low numbers of wheat meant not as many truck loads to Wind River Grain, and not as many trains taking grain out of the area.

"Agriculture is the economic engine of western Kansas. When the farmers have a good year, Main Street has a good year and the co-ops have a good year. It just goes on and on," he said.

It was no different for corn harvest, which turned out worse than producers expected.

Ken Jameson, grain manager at Garden City Co-op, said the co-op ended up with about 60 percent of last year's crop, and the co-op got between 7.5 and 8 million bushels. Last year, the co-op brought in 13 million bushels.

Jay Garetson said corn harvest was the biggest disaster in recorded history on their farm.

Fall harvest had mixed results in southwest Kansas, with a dry growing season crippling some operations.

"Thanks to crop insurance, we'll live to see another day," Garetson said.

Garetson said the poor harvest was an easy equation when growing season was hot and dry. Declining well yields due to the dwindling Ogallala Aquifer added to the problems.

Garetson farms with his family over three different southwest Kansas counties, primarily in Haskell County. The family farm operation turned to cotton harvest this year as a more promising harvest.

Greg Stone, Kansas corn commissioner, said the amount of rain received as of the end of October had done little to alleviate the drought.

"These little tiny rain events we've had just aren't adding up to much. A few local spots are getting some decent, measurable amounts, but as a whole, we continue to add to the deficit," he said.

Stone, who has been farming in Finney County since 1988, said this is the worst year he's seen, and older farmers agree.

"They even had some rain in the dirty '30s," Stone said.

He said years like this only happen once a century.

To combat the drought, Stone said farmers will have to change cropping patterns and change populations of the crops planted.

"Become real defensive, that's the best way to describe it," he said.

Stone said he was hoping for lots of snow this winter. The snow last week did provide much-needed moisture for the area and will provide insulation for planted wheat against cold temperatures and violent winds, Knapp said.

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