Wheat production estimates grim
By MIKE CORN
Son of E. Lorene Corn
Struggling in the face of an extreme drought that now covers just slightly more than half of the state, Kansas wheat production for this year is forecast at 260.4 million bushels.
That estimate nearly mirrors what was offered earlier this month at the conclusion of a cross-state tour by teams of scouts.
Already, some wheat fields in the Hays area are moving past the dark blue hues that represent extreme drought into brown, barren patches that signal the wheat has passed the point of no return.
If either the 260.4 million bushel forecast issued Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the 260.7 million forecast offered earlier by crop scouts on the Wheat Quality Council tour proves to be true, it would be the smallest crop since 1996.
Last year, Kansas produced 319.2 million bushels of wheat, so the 58.8 million bushel decline included in the first estimate of the new year represents an 18-percent drop in production.
Yield forecasts for the initial report stood at 31 bushels per acre, down 7 bushels from a year ago and also the lowest since 1996.
In something of a strange twist, wheat production in northwest Kansas will be dramatically higher this year, but only because last year's production was abysmally low and from far fewer acres than are normally planted.
In the northwest crop reporting district, production this year is forecast to be 7 million bushels more.
It's the same for the west-central crop reporting district. Yields are forecast to be 3 bushels per acre higher, but from 200,000 additional acres.
Last year's wheat production was down because the number of acres planted also was down, in favor of corn.
Drought is the driving force behind the deteriorating conditions.
In Thursday's update to the U.S. Drought Monitor, researchers put slightly more than half the state in the extreme drought category, and a small section of far southern Kansas in the exceptional drought category.
"Kansas continues to set the southern edge of the intense drought that seems to be waking up and pushing rapidly north along with warmer temperatures," National Drought Mitigation Center research Mark Svoboda said of last week's report.
The extreme drought category pushed across much of southern Kansas, he said, and the exceptional category is "pushing north out of Oklahoma."
"Soil moisture and groundwater levels are hurting well in front of the peak demand season as the cumulative impacts of such an intense multi-year drought are already glaringly evident, and it's only early May," Svoboda reported. "Precipitation totals on the year are running just 25 (percent) to 50 percent of normal, or worse, for many locales across southern Kansas."