Monday, April 25, 2016

Rain and Why It Matters.

It rained. Such a lovely phrase! In Western Kansas, the most limiting factor for the production of any crop is moisture. Period. This is true whether or not one has access to irrigation. So when it rained last week for the first time in 71 days, you could feel the collective sigh of relief across the region. It rained. Dryland wheat is a two year crop in our area with only the final 9 months of that actually devoted to growing the wheat. Before we plant wheat, we have left the ground fallow for anywhere from 10 to 16 months, attempting to store as much moisture in the soil as possible before we make the big push to make grain.
With a wet year in 2015, and ample (if very late) fall rains, we felt pretty good about the wheat coming out of winter dormancy, despite the lack of snow. But spring came early and hot (we hit 89 degrees on 18 February,) and the wheat started growing rapidly, using up that precious soil moisture. Add in quite a bit of early aphid and mite activity, and we started to lose a little bit of that good feeling we’d had for most of 2015. Blessings really do come in disguise, though, and ours came in the form of a vicious cold snap. We bottomed out at 10 degrees on March 20, and there were not a few worried folks, as all of our wheat had jointed. The wheat wasn’t so worried however and came out of the cold spell if anything looking somewhat improved, having shed so many pesky aphids and mites who weren’t quite so ready for the cold.
Which brings me back to rain. Or lack of it. I don’t recall so much as a dewy morning in March which was great for avoiding the Stripe Rust infections plaguing much of the state, but not so great for our soil moisture profiles. Irrigation systems started firing up the last week of March, and around the first of April we began to see the signs that our dryland wheat was rapidly approaching the turning point from good crop to no crop.
And then it rained. Yes, it was only thirty-two hundredths of an inch. And yes irrigation motors in the area stayed running. But thirty-two hundredths at the right time on dryland wheat can mean the difference between sending truckloads of wheat to the elevator and filling out paperwork at the crop insurance office. Thirty-two hundredths of rain is equal to one million gallons of water per irrigated circle that won’t be mined from the Ogallala aquifer. And thirty-two hundredths was exactly what we needed to make it through to tonight. Tonight I am writing this to the sound of falling rain—well over an inch by now. It rained. And in the morning, we will have the peculiar silence that comes to this area when all the irrigation motors are off. And everyone I meet in and around Garden City Kansas will have a smile on their face. It rained!

[This post was originally published on the Syngenta Voices 4 Wheat Page.]

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