The latest drought monitor map came out Thursday and as most expected the news isn’t good. So where are we?
• Except for Ellsworth and Russell Counties all of the area is in a “Severe Drought.” Ellsworth and Russell have moved up to “Extreme Drought” just below the worst rating of “Exceptional.” This is the result of little precipitation the last few months combined with several days of well above normal temperatures and wind, lots of wind. What this means to producers is that there is precious little moisture in most soil profiles for wheat and spring planted crops.
• Wheat needs moisture now, especially the late planted and thin stand wheat. This wheat has the least developed root system and the most exposed ground to enhance evaporation. This in an instance where the relatively cold winter and early spring have helped by reducing water usage and retarded wheat development. For an average to good wheat crop the area needs timely precipitation and moderate temperatures through at least early June.
• What accentuates the problem with the wheat crop is that water stressed wheat in dry soils is more vulnerable to freeze damage, diseases, insects, and weed pressure. Many pest problems can be addressed with pesticides but if conditions don’t improve producers have to decide if the cost of treatment will pay for itself. As wheat prices move upward, it may well be a wise investment.
• Those planning on planting dryland soybeans and grain sorghum have time and a much more forgiving planting window so they have time to be patient. If conditions don’t improve producers to quote Dirty Harry have to ask themselves if they feel luck, especially with soybeans.
• Dryland corn producers have a hard choice to make. If they are following wheat and are planting no-till they may have some soil moisture to work with. If they are following a fall crop or did fairly extensive tillage the profile might not even have adequate moisture to establish the crop, let alone enough to move it down the road.
While it’s hardly hopeless yet, it is starting to get serious. And by this Sunday we should have a pretty good idea if the 2014 sustained any serious frost damage from last weekend’s freezing temperatures.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.