Curiously on one of the Wichita TV stations after the most recent precipitation, the weatherman spent time regarding the drought and if the drought was over. Most of us while very grateful for the moisture know we are still in a severe drought, especially when you consider that even after the last event many areas are still five or more inches behind normal compared to the long-term yearly average as of this date. So what exactly did we gain with this moisture?
• Most reports indicate over an inch of precipitation in the area. The top several inches of soil now have moisture. Temperatures are seasonal so little should be lost to evaporation. This is enough soil moisture to germinate wheat that was waiting for soil moisture and to help develop root systems needed for good winter survival. While wheat is still thin and much has few obvious tillers, if conditions stay moderate, wheat plants can initiate tillers. For those unfamiliar with winter wheat, the number of tillers (shoots) determines the potential yield since each can in theory develop a wheat head with seed. So while weather conditions throughout the year determine what the actual yield is, the potential yield is set in the fall.
• If we can build on this moisture, or at least not waste it, two benefits occur. First, wheat plants will have adequate moisture to harden off properly (get ready to go dormant) and be well positioned to survive the winter. Most winter kill problems occur when conditions are dry combined with cold weather. Often winterkill in our wheat isn’t true winterkill but really desiccation due to drought and cold temperatures. Second, moist soil holds heat better than dry soil and its temperature fluctuates less since water has a much higher heat capacity than dry minerals (soil). So while maximum soil temperatures may be lower when moist, lows will be higher and this can greatly help protect the growing point.
• For wheat farmers to sleep a bit better, normal precipitation would be very helpful. And that’s not asking much since normal monthly precipitation until March is only around an inch per month. It would also help to keep temperatures seasonal and avoid prolonged warm spells.
• The area is still in a drought but weather patterns have at least changed a little, becoming more unsettled and providing a chance for moisture.
On Nov. 4, twenty gifted students from middle schools in Barton County attended a Career Exploration Day at the college. Each student spent thirty minutes exploring four areas that included Business Information and Technology, Automotive Technology, Criminal Justice, and Agriculture. The students were engaged, inquisitive, respectful and good sports. They even had the privilege of enduring a power outage for the last session. Why bring this up? Too often when we think “gifted” we assume that means a traditional path for secondary education, doctor, lawyer, and teacher. That path is great for some but not others. For the good of our community, state, and nation, it is important to attract some of these students into “technical” areas. Many of the items we take for granted today arose from technical areas where bright individuals were working in nontraditional paths. All aspects of the agriculture industry are in need of bright motivated people with the ability to solve problems and develop the next big thing.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.