The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

August 17, 2013

Rain is a boon and bane: Moisture helps some crops, keeps farmers out of fields

Kevin Hassler, Associate Editor
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Continued rain has been a blessing for some farmers and something of a curse for others.

Rainfall in June, July and August has done much to alleviate the drought gripping Oklahoma for the past three years. A large portion of the state — including about half of Garfield County — is no longer suffering from drought, according to U.S. Drought Monitor in its report released Aug. 8.

Extreme and exceptional drought, the two worst conditions, persists in western Oklahoma and the Panhandle. Parts of Grant, Alfalfa, Major, Woods, Woodward and Blaine counties continue to experience severe drought, the third-worst category.

“It’s been a benefit to producers of the double crops,” said Roger Don Gribble, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service northwest area agronomist, of the rain.

Those crops include soybeans, grain sorghum and sesame, he said. They are well into their growth cycle now and will be harvested after the first frost — into November, Gribble said.

The rain also has been good for producers of alfalfa and grass hay. The moisture has benefited the plants, allowing farmers to produce more hay, which has been in short supply in recent years because of the drought.

“It’s been good,” Gribble said. “Alfalfa takes 6 inches of rain to create a ton of hay. Grass hay has needed moisture for three years. That’s a positive for grass.”

Given the amount of rain in June, July and August, hay production has seen a boost.

However, hay producers also need to cut and bale their crops, which can’t happen if it continues to rain.

“We need a window to harvest,” Gribble said. “That window has been pretty hard to come by.”

Other producers who would like to see a break in the weather soon are wheat and canola farmers.

With all the rain, these producers have not been able to prepare their seed beds for the next crop, Gribble said. Some fields are being overtaken by weeds because farmers have not been able to till the ground or take their weed control measures.

“We’re not at the critical point yet,” Gribble said.

That point will come the first part of September. That’s when farmers will need to get into their fields to prepare the land for the next crop.

Planting of wheat and canola should start the second week of September, Gribble said, and continue through mid-October.

Garfield County and surrounding areas have received substantial rainfall since June, according to Mesonet weather-recording stations.

The station at Breckinridge recorded 4.17 inches of rain in June, 6.87 in July and 1.89 in August as of Aug. 12.

The site at Lahoma recorded 3.96 inches in June, 7.45 in July and 2.10 as of Aug. 12.

Many places in the area have received enough rain to refill farm ponds that dried up in the drought; however, the same isn’t true for other parts of the state, Gribble said. Areas to the west of Enid haven’t received the same amount of rain and have had “no runoff to fill the ponds,” he said.

The state as a whole has seen improvement because of recent rains.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, topsoil moisture ratings for the state are much improved over last year. Twelve percent has a surplus of moisture, and another 63 percent of topsoil has adequate moisture. A year ago, those percentages were 0 percent surplus and 2 percent adequate.

This year, 25 percent of subsoil is listed as short or very short of moisture, compared to 98 percent last year, according to NASS.

Subsoil figures also show improvement. Two percent of subsoil shows a surplus, while 53 percent has adequate moisture. Last year the percentages were 0 percent and 3 percent, respectively. This year, 44 percent of subsoil is short or very short of water, compared to 97 percent last year.