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The many effects of the ongoing drought
Dr. Victor Martin

The drought monitor report as of Tuesday, May 16 indicates exceptional drought in our area with really no change from last week. Stafford County moved from exception to only extreme drought. Anything after Tuesday isn’t reflected in this report. Some parts of Southwest and Northwest Kansas show improved conditions where extreme NW Kansas actual improved to moderate drought. And there is the promise for more precipitation.

The six to ten-day outlook (May 23 to 27) indicates a 40 to 50% of above normal temperature and a normal to a 40 to 50% chance of leaning to above normal precipitation. The eight to 14-day outlook (May 25 to 31) indicates a similar temperature outlook and a 33 to 40% chance of leaning to above normal precipitation. Hopefully we are moving into a more active, normal precipitation pattern.

We are all aware or the effects of the drought on crop yields; however, there are many other effects of interest to those of us living out here.  

• First, many have commented on the larger number of Miller Moths (army cutworms) than normal. And numbers are significantly above normal. The drought helps explain this. The moth survives over the winter as a partially developed larva and resumes feeding in the spring, goes into the soil to pupate and emerges as an adult. Extremely cold winters, especially without snow cover, help increase morality. While not balmy we had a mild, dry winter. Also, with normal precipitation there is a fungus that attacks the larvae and decreases their numbers. This are also a migrating moth so while a nuisance to homeowners, and the larvae potentially for newly emerged crops, numbers should start to decrease shortly. As an aside, dry conditions also favor grasshopper problems in the summer as these conditions suppress the fungus attacking their exoskeleton.

• The lack of moisture affects the soil in several ways. One, a lack of vegetative growth, above and below ground, leads to a decrease of organic residue for microorganisms to feed on, break down and contribute to humus formation. Also, under normal conditions, humus slowly breaks down each growing season and contributes inorganic plant nutrients like nitrogen and sulfur to the soil solution. And under dry soil conditions, plant nutrients like potassium, phosphorus and much harder for the plant roots to take up.

• A lack of growth from drought also weakens perennial plants from alfalfa to grasses and trees. It’s harder for the plant to store nutrients to overwinter and if prolonged, greatly weakens and eventually can kill the plant. Especially for trees and shrubs, the effects of the drought may exhibit themselves for several years after a drought ends.

• Finally, if you have noticed dead pine and ash trees, this is indirectly due to the drought as the trees are weakened so that pests such as the pine bark beetle and emerald ash borer cause greater damage than they normally would and can destroy weakened trees.

These are just a few examples of the effects of long-term drought.

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207, or