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Next Generation Farming

Dry, and Getting Drier

In the High Plains, some of the worst planting conditions in decades.

We're in the heat of planting season here on the High Plains, and the news isn't good. This is turning out to be some of the driest, most horrible planting conditions in decades.

Temperatures recently hit new all-time highs and peaked in the 90s or triple digits in some locations, all while the winds have been blowing at a gale force. Add the fact that we haven't received any significant rainfall for months, and conditions continue to go from bad to worse.

The story is the same with everyone we talk with, whether they're from Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas or Kansas. In some areas of western Kansas, the last significant rain recorded was in June! Whether you farm minimum till or no-till, there's just not much you can do when it's that dry.  

We're having to plant 3 to 4 inches deep this year in order to reach moist soil.

Most farmers by now have simply given up on waiting for a rain and have dealt with the problem by planting the seed deeper where there is still a slight amount of moisture. It's a riskier bet since the seed is further from the surface and harder for a rain to reach. But even more risky is waiting so long for a rain that the moisture below the surface flat out disappears because of the hot and windy conditions, in which case the wheat can only be "dusted" in and hopefully germinated by a light rain that may or may not materialize.

According to Mary Knapp, the Kansas state climatologist, the prognosis for the future doesn't look good.

For the near term, forecasts are calling for more dry weather for the next week to 10 days. So if you're wanting to plant your crop in the ideal time frame before mid-October, that means planting into even drier soil conditions with the available soil moisture  creeping further below the surface. Of course, that further reduces your chances of getting a decent stand of wheat before winter.

But wait, it gets worse.

Knapp says that because we are currently in a full-blown La Nina event, that means that warmer and drier conditions will prevail across the Central and Southern Plains through the remainder of the fall and winter. The trend likely won't break until February.

Put plainly, Knapp says to brace for even more warmer and drier weather. The drought index maps, she says, currently do not indicate drought conditions on the Plains because they measure moisture in a foot of soil, not the 4" of topsoil needed to germinate newly planted seed.

Our only real hope, Knapp adds, is for a tropical storm to make landfall in Texas, which would feed moisture into the Plains. But the current system in the Gulf, however, is scheduled to land in Florida – not even close to where we need it most.

So for the time being, it looks like the unbelievably horrible moisture conditions we're dealing with are only going to get more horrible.

Makes you appreciate all that rain we got last year.

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