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Published November 16, 2010, 01:37 PM

Western third of Kansas suffering moderate drought

JENNINGS, Kan. — Scott Ellis knew rain would be coming his way — eventually.

By: Mike Hays, Hays Daily News

JENNINGS, Kan. — Scott Ellis knew rain would be coming his way — eventually.

To beat that rain, he and two helpers headed out recently to string electric fence through a field of corn stubble.

Down the road a little over a mile, Leroy Roeder, Prairie View, was dusting in wheat seed for another farmer.

“There’s no moisture,” he said of the field. “It’s going to have to rain before it comes up.”

Drought, it seems, is creeping back into the Kansas countryside.

While the U.S. Drought Monitor, based out of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, was showing the western third of the state as “abnormally dry,” on Thursday it changed much of that area, classifying it as being in the grips of a moderate drought.

Overall, 2009 was a difficult year for many farmers in the Jennings area, the result of too much moisture.

“We dumped grain from the field to the elevator in nine months of the year,” said Lawrence Carter, manager of the Jennings branch of the Decatur Co-op Association elevator. “Wheat (harvest) lasted three months and corn lasted for six.”

The last of the 2009 corn crop, he said, was delivered to the elevator in March — of this year.

This year, the corn crop was out of the field early, save for a few isolated instances.

The last truckload of corn for Ellis was cut on Oct. 30 this year. Last year, he said, it was cut Jan. 20.

Warmer temperatures and a lack of rain pushed along this year’s corn harvest.

“We do need a rain,” Carter said. “There is some subsoil moisture but it seems the top is dry.”

That lack of rain hurt corn production, Ellis said.

“It knocked 50 bushels off dryland corn,” he said. “You go from here to Hays, it’s dry.”

Even his irrigated patch of corn was hit by the lack of moisture, yielding only 170 bushels per acre. Last year, he said, the field produced 232 bushels per acre.

North of U.S. Highway 36, he said, conditions aren’t so dire. To the west, near Goodland and St. Francis, corn yields were reported to be excellent.

“Wonderful,” Deb Flemming said of the milo she was harvesting along with her husband, Dave, east of St. Francis. “Spectacular.”

Back at the elevator, manager Carter said corn yields were down this year compared to a year ago.

But because many farmers weren’t even able to plant wheat last fall, the number of corn acres skyrocketed and total production rose dramatically.

He thinks normal cropping patterns have returned to the area, as farmers were able to get the wheat in the ground in a timely fashion this year.

But even that has changed from what it used to be.

Today, he said, farming is generally evenly split between wheat, corn and fallow acres.

Fifteen years ago, he said, half of the land was planted in wheat and the other half allowed to lay idle to store all the moisture it could.

“The guys with cattle would plant milo for feed,” Carter said.

Despite the dry conditions, Ellis said he’s happy with what he’s got.

“I’ll take the wheat stand we’ve got,” he said. “But it could use some help.”

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