November 23, 2016
While much of Kansas has been left with the aftermath of heavy rains and flooding in August and September, an old and ugly enemy is slowly creeping into the state from the west: drought.
From Nov. 10 to Nov. 17, the U.S. Drought Monitor showed a jump in the percentage of Kansas in moderate drought from 11.7% to 26.7%. Just three months ago, the state was drought-free.
Meanwhile, the three-month, long-range weather forecast from the Climate Prediction Center calls for above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation for the southern half of the state and an equal chance of above- or below-average temperatures and precipitation for the northern half.
WINTER WHEAT: The winter wheat crop in south-central Kansas was looking pretty good by mid-November, even though excess warmth brought concern about how much moisture would be left for spring growth if the winter continues to be dry. In western Kansas, much of the crop did not emerge in the fall.
The Climate Prediction Center also expects a weak La Niña to continue through February, a forecast consistent with a warm, dry winter in southern Kansas.
The dry conditions in the western third of the state have already caused problems for the 2017 winter wheat crop, says Jonathan Aguilar, an Extension water specialist at the Kansas State University Southwest Area Extension Center at Garden City.
"There are an awful lot of bare fields out there," he says.
Aguilar says he noted on a recent trip from Garden City to Wichita that much of the 2017 winter wheat crop had not emerged before a hard freeze hit overnight on Nov. 18.
"If we were to get a shower of rain and a long warm-up, we might still see some wheat come up, but most likely anything we get will be from spring emergence," he says. "That's an automatic yield loss."
It also puts the highly erodible land of western Kansas at greater risk of wind erosion, he says.
In the very dry year of 1999 to 2000 in north-central Kansas, Jim Shroyer, then the K-State wheat specialist, found that wheat that emerged in the spring had a yield reduction of 47% compared to fall-emerged wheat and a loss in test weight of about 2.5 pounds per bushel.
Northwest Kansas is dealing with weather problems as well — theirs are stemming from a wet summer and a long, warm fall that encouraged a proliferation of wheat curl mites and the wheat streak mosaic they carry.
By November, however, the whole western third of the state was coping with moderate drought conditions that have been creeping steadily westward.
The prospect of a return to drought is particularly unsettling in an era of depressed commodity prices that have left farmers with their best wheat crop ever barely breaking even at the end of the year.
A look at even the very long-range forecasts for March, April and May of 2017 are not terribly encouraging. They show a strong likelihood of above-normal temperatures for that three-month period, with an equal chance of above- or below-normal precipitation.
However, above-normal winter temperatures with adequate rain or a very early spring might actually help the late-emergence wheat get up and growing in time to make grain. And a wet and cool May — on the order what Kansas has seen for the past two years — could salvage some of the typical yield lost to late emergence.
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