Vance Ehmke drove between Amy and Dighton Tuesday, looking at Kansas wheat fields covered with pockmarks and broken stems.

The Lane County farmer raises wheat for seed production, and Monday night he and many other producers were hit by a devastating band of hail that stretched from Sharon Springs to Kinsley.

“I’m just driving around looking at these fields,” Ehmke said. “Every field from Amy to Dighton is 100 percent gone or 95 percent gone.”

Pockmarks from falling hail covered fields at Ehmke’s farm just south of the town of Amy. The farm rests on the edge of the swath and saw pea-sized hail, but Ehmke still estimated a loss of six to 10 quarters — all for seed production.

The path of hail through Scott, Lane and Ness counties followed closely to Kansas Highway 96. Ehmke said the damage was evident about two miles south of the highway and four miles north of it.

“North of 96 it’s like a giant lawnmower chopped it up,” he said. “All that’s left is little pieces of wheat stubble.”


An amazing image from GOES 16 satellite imagery tonight. Check out the white streak! That is all the (cold) hail that piled up with the thunderstorm from Colorado through Scott and Lane counties. We received a report of 6" of baseball size hail in Lane county. Amazing! #kswx

— NWS Dodge City (@NWSDodgeCity) May 15, 2018


Barry Schwien, a crop insurance agent and appraiser with High Plains Farm Credit in Ness City, saw areas of no damage to total loss through Lane and Ness counties. One client on the Ness/Lane county line reported lost acres and broken windows in his home. Another located eight miles south of Ness City said his wheat crop was a total loss.

“It followed 96 and came right through Dighton, then moved a little to the south,” Schwien said. “It started out way out west in Colorado and came through five to six miles wide that whole way.”

He said that whole stretch likely has total destruction at the core and partial damage on the edges.

A hailstone measuring six inches across was reported in Lane County, according to the National Weather Service in Dodge City.

Other areas north of K-96 reported anywhere from ping pong ball- to baseball-sized hail. In many areas, the stones were delivered by wind gusting at over 70 miles per hour.

“Getting hailed out in the middle of the worst drought in 144 years,” Ehmke sighed. “How does that happen?”

Wheat in western Kansas has suffered the effects of severe drought throughout growing season. The crop was small and behind in its development stage with little hope for moisture in sight. Ehmke did, however, record .75 of an inch of rain from the storm.

Moisture won’t mean much with destroyed plants, leaving many producers in Ehmke’s shoes: driving around and deciding what to do next.

Ehmke spoke with his claims adjuster for crop insurance Tuesday. One options is to destroy any remaining wheat in the fields and collect a full crop insurance claim, then replant next season.

“I don’t know if that’s a viable option for some of these fields,” Ehmke said. “Some have no crop residue left at all, so people may want to plant milo just to get some groundcover.”

Schwien agreed with Ehmke.

“Most farmers will probably take 100 percent of their crop insurance on their wheat and then try to plant milo into their fallow ground,” he said.

While providing ground cover to hold down soil, planting milo also allows producers to keep at least partial insurance coverage on the new crop. Schwien said insurance claims are usually filed within seven days of damage and encouraged any producers who have not contacted their agent to do so as soon as possible.

The year has been uncertain and often harsh to wheat producers and the latest adversity is just another on a list that includes drought, freeze damage, limited yield potential and more.

Ehmke managed to pull one positive out of the situation as he drove through battered fields.

“A lot of Lane and Scott county farmers will be paying a lot less income tax this year,” he said.