Nuclear Summer Is Here

Published on: 07:48AM Aug 04, 2008
Vance Ehmke

I keep hearing about how wet and cool and green things are east of the central and southern High Plains. In this area, though, nuclear summer is here. And I’m sure hoping someone is keeping track of where our dryland corn went—because it is gone. The dryland milo isn’t far behind.

I don’t know how many acres of dryland corn we have out here in the Plains, but whoever is in charge had better be reducing everyone’s expectations about the size of this crop.

It’s not just dry out here. It’s screaming hot. I got off the tractor the other day and came face to face with l07 degree temps combined with a 30 mph south wind. It is actually hard to breathe in that kind of environment. And you are forever thirsty. What was green that morning was gray that afternoon. Except for the corn that was brown and crispy. For the past 2 months, we’re sitting at 50% of normal precip. For the year, we’re at 67% of normal.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not whining. I was talking with one of the agronomists at K-State’s Garden City Experiment Station, and he said if you want to see dry, go to the Tribune Experiment Station. They haven’t even had 4 inches of total precip for the entire year. Try growing a crop of corn on that.

So what does this mean? In northwest Kansas, a large irrigated and dryland corn farm in Thomas County has l0,000 acres planted. Of that, 5000 acres is dryland, and of that, 4000 acres has been appraised at 0 bu/acre. I have a feeling some insurance company is not looking forward to getting any more mail with Colby KS postmarks.

I just talked with a farmer in Wichita County, and he said they had just started baling their dryland corn. We were in Scott County last night and a friend showed me several of his dryland corn fields. One was absolutely 0—waist high and dead. The other one was caught in no man’s land—with an expected yield of l5 to 20, the returns will be less than a yield of 0 since you’ve got the cutting expense plus have to subtract the mediocre yield off your insurance payment.

Our seed cleaners drive through northeast Finney County on the way to our farm and tell me about a section of dryland corn they pass every day. And every day, it takes a giant step backwards. They say its highest and best use is silage—but they’d better hurry.

Even the dryland milo--which is one tough son of a gun--I don’t see how it can keep coming back. After about 3 or 4 in the afternoon, it looks like the final scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sun Dance Kid.

So for all you guys in Kansas City and Chicago who think everything is wet and cool and green, think again.

And finally, your words of wisdom for the day: I told my wife there is nothing worse than getting off the tractor and walking back to check the drills and finding them empty. She said there is something worse. It’s opening up the lids and finding the drills clear full.