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Rains help wheat planting in arid western Kansas

Updated: 2013-09-29T18:48:12Z

By ROXANA HEGEMAN

The Associated Press

— After years of drought, recent rainfall in far western Kansas has bolstered topsoil moisture conditions along with the hopes of farmers as planting for the 2014 winter wheat crop gets underway across the state.

“Overall people have reason to be a lot more pleased, especially those folks in western Kansas,” said Aaron Harries, marketing director for the industry group Kansas Wheat.

Among those a bit more optimistic about planting wheat in northwest Kansas is Gove farmer Roger Beesley, who was busy Friday dropping off a load of corn at the local elevator. He expects to begin planting about 1,600 acres of wheat sometime next week.

While moisture conditions were not too bad last fall at Beesley’s farm, soil conditions have improved over two years ago.

Wheat needs good topsoil moisture conditions in the fall to germinate and grow before winter sets in. With subsoil moisture mostly depleted after the long drought, decent spring rains will also be needed to bring the 2014 crop through to harvest.

“I think we are going to get it up alright,” Beesley said. “We need rain after we plant and a little help next spring. It is kind of a holistic thing – you have to do the whole thing to get a good crop.”

The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported earlier this week that 13 percent of the wheat had been planted in Kansas, but that number is expected to rise sharply by the time the next update is issued on Monday.

Things are “dramatically better” this fall although technically much of the western third of Kansas remains in a drought, Harries said.

Topsoil moisture conditions were rated by NASS as adequate or surplus across 52 percent of Kansas, with the most subsoil moisture showing up in northwest and west-central Kansas after the recent storm systems that moved through the area dropping 4 to 5 inches of rain in places.

About 70 percent of west-central Kansas is now rated with adequate to surplus topsoil moisture, while about 65 percent of northwest Kansas falls in that category. Even southwest Kansas – which missed the heavier rains – is still in better shape with 37 percent adequate to surplus topsoil moisture reported.

“Generally, there is a little more optimism at least when you are planting – because you expect it to come up,” said Joe Leibbrandt, Extension agent in Grant County in southwest Kansas.

Kansas Wheat is also hearing from some farmers that they may plant more wheat acres this fall because of the better soil moisture condition.

“If they increase compared to what they did last year,” Harries said, “it may just get them back to normal.”

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