Q's snowfall not enough for harvest

2/22/2013

By RACHAEL GRAY

By RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

This week's winter storm brought much-needed moisture to the area, but local farmers and co-op officials are saying it's a long way until June, when wheat harvest usually begins in southwest Kansas.

The storm brought about 7 inches of snowfall to Garden City. Precipitation totals were about 0.19 inches for Tuesday and Wednesday, according to climate data from the National Weather Service in Dodge City. Thursday's snowfall will add to that amount.

The total does help catch Garden City up to its 0.41-inch deficit this year.

Haskell County farmer Jay Garetson said it's the lack of moisture compounded with a two- or three-year deficit that is making crops in this part of the state suffer.

"Our subsoil deficit is the cumulative effect of the last two or three years," Garetson said.

He said when fields go two years without much annual rainfall, the subsoil moisture levels are not where they need to be to grow successful wheat.

"The snow is very welcome. It gives us hope and optimism and buys us time for the next (precipitation) event," he said.

He said most of the crops' root system, which is how they take water and nutrients, is in the top foot soil profile. Wheat also has an extensive, deep root system. The surface moisture, which is what the snow brings, can keep small plants going. But when the plants have no deep moisture, those roots get stunted, he said.

He said the moisture from the snow helps reinvigorate the top root profile.

"In the event that we could get a follow-up rain or snow, that would drive down the moisture from the top soil into the lower levels. Those lower levels are where the wheat pulls from during the final stages, when the wheat crop is in its grain-filling period, just before harvest," he said.

Garetson said that prior to this week's snowfall, the crops were in danger of dying prematurely because the top foot of soil had become so moisture-deficient.

"We would call that growing backwards. The plant is cannibalizing itself," he said.

Garetson said the snow helps in the short run because it stops that process.

"What we need now is follow-up rain events or additional snow. That will continue migrating the moisture down into the subsoil," he said.

Garetson said it's difficult to say what state the wheat is in right now.

"We don't start seeing improvements in the wheat crop until the weather warms back up," he said.

Along with the moisture, trace amounts of nitrogen in snow help nourish the wheat.

"We should see a definite greening of the wheat crop. It should start to look more resilient and vibrant, especially if we get follow-up events," he said.

Garetson said wheat harvest is still a long ways out and more moisture is needed.

"The snowfall is great. But it's a long way to go to June 20 — the time we usually start wheat harvest," he said.

Greg Fletcher, with ADM Grain in Leoti, said this one snow event won't make a wheat harvest.

"It's huge for the state of Kansas. But in our area, we were disappointed we didn't get nearly what we hoped we would get," he said.

Leoti got about 5 inches of snow.

"That's not what we hoped for. We need more of that in Leoti, Selkirk and Shallow Water. But we'll sure take what we can get. By no means does this make a wheat crop. That, I can assure you," he said.

Fletcher also said it's difficult to tell where the wheat crop is at this point.

"It's in its normal winter state. Some of it is trying to green up. There's not much we can say or do about the wheat crop at this time. It will start greening up and growing in the spring," he said.

Fletcher said some farmers have dug up the wheat to see its progress.

"Some of them have dug it up. And it is alive. So that's a bonus," he said.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, which was updated Tuesday, reported no change in drought conditions in southwest Kansas. Most of southwest Kansas is in extreme and exceptional drought categories. The whole state is in a drought, along with most of the Midwest.

The report, which was released before this week's winter storm, predicted an inch of precipitation in Colorado and 1.5 inches in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas.

The next chance for rain and snow may be Sunday and Monday.

The NWS calls for temperatures in the mid-30s on Sunday with a 40 percent chance of rain and snow, increasing to a 50 percent chance of snow Sunday night. Monday through Wednesday, highs are expected in the mid-30s.

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