Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pouring rainfall poorly timed

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 6/18/2014

Famine or feast.

Either extreme is not good when talking about moisture, local farmers said with wheat harvest around the river bend in Franklin County.

Famine or feast.

Either extreme is not good when talking about moisture, local farmers said with wheat harvest around the river bend in Franklin County.

Ottawa recorded 6.39 inches of rain through the first two weeks of June, more than 1 inch above the monthly 5.18-inch average, according to the city’s water treatment plant, which records temperature and moisture readings for the community.

A wetter-than-usual June has pushed back the start of wheat harvest by a few days.

“From a standpoint of ripeness, wheat is there and harvest can begin as soon as conditions allow the combines to get in the fields,” Darren Hibdon, Frontier Extension District No. 11 Agriculture and Natural Resources agent, Ottawa, said Wednesday. “If we don’t see moisture [Thursday] night, we could see some cutting by the end of the week.”

Despite abundant rainfall in June, Franklin County and most of Kansas remains in a drought. On June 10, the U.S. Drought Monitor at www.drought.gov listed Franklin County in an “abnormally dry to moderate drought.”

Through Monday, Ottawa’s year-to-date rainfall totaled 12.78 inches, well off the pace of 2013 when the city had recorded 17.44 inches of rain through June 15 — despite receiving less than a half-inch of rain through the first two weeks of June 2013, according to Herald archives.

“We are still in a drought watch from the [state] government, and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon,” Jim Bradley, the city’s utilities director, said. “The conditions have not changed, even though [area] lakes have risen dramatically in the last few days. We are still 6 inches behind [in rainfall] for the year.”

Mary Knapp, Kansas State University climatologist at the K-State weather data library in Manhattan, reinforced last week during a K-State radio program the state remains in a drought despite a wet June.

“Statewide, [Kansas is] running well above average rainfall for June,” Knapp said. “It was not a drought buster, if you will. Half of the state is still in a severe drought.”

SIGNS OF DROUGHT

The signs of drought can be traced back more than three years, Knapp said.

“We can go back to fall 2010 where we started the development of this current drought,” she said. “We’ve had some periods of improvement, but never completely erased the drought from the map.”

To listen to Knapp’s Weather Wonders audio podcasts of interesting weather facts, go to www.ksre.ksu.edu and click on the Podcast tab.

As far as Ottawa’s water supply, the recent rains have helped, Bradley said.

“We are better off than what we were at this time last year,” Bradley said. “We have a full pool in our water supply.”

The city’s seven-day weather summary released Friday showed Ottawa had received 5.21 inches of rainfall in the previous week. The city’s water production in June is down thus far at 15,809,000 gallons for the month — compared to the same period in June 2013 with water production of 17,131,000 gallons, “We still need to continue to watch it,” Bradley said of the persistent drought.

The city’s weekly drought tip for residents: “Apply water only as fast as the soil can absorb it.”

Unfortunately for area farmers, Mother Nature hasn’t adhered to that drought tip this month.

“The rains need to stop. In Kansas, the water can’t get away, and corn and soybeans don’t like wet feet,” Kevin Spencer, owner of Spencer Farms LLC, based on Ohio Terrace in rural Ottawa, said. “Basically for us, it was dry early on but the problem now is that we have had too much rain [in a short period] and it has oversaturated the soil, which causes nutrient deficiencies in corn and soybeans.

“It’s kind of been a feast and famine situation,” Spencer said. “The ponds were too low and now they are full, and now we are worried about the river going out if we get much more rain.”

Spencer Farms has 3,925 acres of row crops in Franklin County and the surrounding area, Spencer said.

“The ground is fairly saturated with the extra moisture, and we do not have a good color [in corn and bean] crops,” Hibdon, the extension agriculture agent, said. “Those plants are effected by the moisture — our beans especially have taken a hit. But it is still early. What we need are some good sunny days.”

Spencer agreed with Hibdon that the wheat harvest is still a few days away.

“We just need to be patient,” Spencer said.

DELAYED HARVEST

Though harvest might be delayed, Hibdon said Franklin County’s wheat crop looks better than most parts of the state he’s traveled through of late.

“The wheat crop this year has gone through several major obstacles,” Hibdon said. “It was very dry to start with, and a late frost might hurt some yields more than we originally thought. But we do have some decent stands, and our wheat looks as good or better than any part of the state I’ve been across. It’s not going to be a bumper crop, but I think it could make 25 to 40 bushels per acre.”

Wheat harvest is under way in south-central Kansas and “the average range is around 10-12 bushels per acre” in the Kiowa area, according to the Kansas Wheat Commission.

In addition to crops, the drought likely has caused some stress damage to trees across Ottawa, a designated Tree City USA, city officials said.

The prolonged drought might have indirectly led to a power outage Monday afternoon in Ottawa when a large tree limb snapped and knocked down three power lines in the 800 block of South Cherry Street. The outage lasted for about an hour and affected 40 to 50 blocks of southwest Ottawa, including a portion of the city’s downtown business district.

When Ottawa city commissioners briefly discussed the outage during their study session Monday, Blake Jorgensen, Ottawa city commissioner, asked utilities director Bradley if he thought the damaged tree on Cherry Street could have been the result of stress from the drought.

“It’s a distinct possibility,” Bradley said. “It wasn’t windy enough to make the limb fall.”

The drought has damaged fruit trees in the county, one producer said.

“The three-year [drought] event has had an affect on some of the fruit trees, particularly in 2012 when there was a tremendous amount of heat associated with it,” Mike Gerhardt, owner of Pome on the Range Orchards & Winery, Williamsburg, said. “It’s caused some structural damage to trees from the stress and sun scald. We’ve had a couple of crops that were a little less than outstanding, particularly in apples, because of the drought. They need summertime moisture to keep developing.”

Peach trees are a little more tolerant of the dry conditions, but the crop could fall short of yield projections this summer because of the extreme cold temperatures this winter, Gerhardt said. The cool mid-May temperatures hampered asparagus during its peak production, as well as some other vegetable crops and blackberries in the area, Gerhardt said.

Gerhardt, however, remains optimistic about his apple crop this year, with the bulk of the apple harvest taking place around Aug. 20, he said.

“If the rainfall pattern continues like it is, this is really kind of shaping up to be a decent summer at this point, but it’s early,” Gerhardt said. “What can you do? It’s farming.”

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