By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Planting decisions amid state drought conditions
Dr. Victor Martin

The drought monitor report as of Tuesday, May 14 shows a slight easing for parts of the state but our area and the moderate drought isn’t easing here. In fact, there is now an area of extreme drought in the extreme southwest corner of Rush County and northeastern Pawnee County. Southeast Kansas continues faring the best currently along with the northern tier of counties and the Kansas City area. The six to ten-day outlook (May 21 to 25) indicates a 33 to 50% chance of leaning to above normal temperatures and 33 to 40% chance of leaning to above normal for precipitation. The eight to 14-day outlook (May 23 to 29) indicates a 33 to 50% chance of leaning to above normal temperatures and a 33 to 40% leaning above normal for precipitation. The challenge is rainfall is typically scattered storms and widespread beneficial rains are unlikely.

Today, let’s discuss spring planting and this area’s soil moisture conditions. Irrigated land is less impacted; however, producers would prefer to save as much water as possible for critical growth stages. For dryland producers, the situation is much different. Some land has received recent rains while other fields barely a sprinkle. Almost none where soil has adequate subsoil moisture with entire region under moderate drought conditions and it would take well above normal rainfall for an extended period of time to make a substantial impact. Or we could hope for regular timely rains. Neither scenario seems likely as of today’s long-range outlook. So, what can dryland producers do?

• First, determine how much soil moisture you have. Almost none. Some moisture but not much with no subsoil moisture. Or decent moisture. Look at the weather forecast for the next several weeks. And look at the field’s soil type. Is it sandier like many soils south of the river? Is it a silt loam or heavier soil? Does the soil have decent residue cover or is it essentially bare? What is soil structure like. Little structure and loose? Massive and solid retarding root growth? Does it have a granular (crumbly structure)?

• Sandier soils hold less water and will dry out more quickly than heavier soils. Residue cover helps keep the soil cooler and acts as a vapor barrier to decrease evaporation. Better soil structure, granular, is easier for plant roots to explore and indicates better infiltration rates and water holding capacity. A powderier structure tends to crust and compact with a high initial infiltration rate but as the surface seals, water runs off. The massive, solid structure is difficult for roots to penetrate and has a low infiltration rate.

• Do you plant or wait? If you have decent soil moisture the answer is easy. Plant. If it’s very dry, you can wait for rain. The area is growing short on time for corn with adequate time left for grain sorghum and soybeans. You can dust it in at normal depth and hope for adequate rainfall. The hardest decision is when you have some but no much soil moisture. You may have enough for the seed to germinate and emerge, but if conditions are hot and dry, it’s likely you will lose significant numbers of plants. Or you can wait, especially with grain sorghum and soybeans, hoping for decent rainfall.

• A final consideration involves fertilizer and herbicide inputs. Fortunately for corn and grain sorghum, a split application of nitrogen is recommended anyway so you can’t wait and evaluate. Soil applied herbicides need rainfall to activate is another concern.

It’s a very challenging time for dryland crop producers. The best solution is rain.

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