Lack of snow extends drought for farmers

BASEHOR, Kan. - Snow has again been sparse so far this winter, which is exactly the opposite of what farmers need.

Basehor, Kan., farmer Steve Tuttle said in 2012, his land was 19 inches behind normal in moisture. Less than a month into 2013, it's already looking bad for him again.

Tuttle farms 400 acres of winter wheat in Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties.

"If it does stay dry, then the roots system won't have enough moisture to continue to keep that plant alive," Tuttle said.

The roots were already weakened by the drought going into winter. Now that the wheat has entered its dormancy stage, growing has stopped. When Tuttle fertilizes his fields in the coming weeks, he worries the nitrogen will not soak in and reach the roots when they actually can grow again.

"If we continue with the weather trends we're in right now, we could be looking at a pretty sparse crop," Tuttle said.

41 Action News chief meteorologist Gary Lezak has bad news for Tuttle and other farmers.

"I think it's going to stay dry through most of February and March into April before there's a chance of significant precipitation in May and June," Lezak said.

He expects two or three snowfalls in the next month. That's good for wheat because it adds moisture to the ground and insulates the plants from the cold.

"But two inches of snow, three inches of snow, are not going to do it," Lezak added.

Right now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture rates 31 percent of Kansas wheat in either "poor" or "very poor" condition.

Kansas Association of Wheat Growers spokesman Bill Spiegel said the situation is at its worst in western Kansas, where some wheat has not even sprouted.

Almost all of Kansas is still in an "extreme" or "exceptional" drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. All 105 Kansas counties are considered a disaster area by the USDA, making farmers eligible for emergency aid.

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