It doesn't take much driving across Kansas to notice there is a serious drought in progress.
I took a trip across the southern part of the state from Wichita to the Colorado border and back across the central part of the state on Kansas Hwy. 96 earlier this week. It’s incredibly dry everywhere. But the western third of the state is decimated.
I love the “chance of showers” you see in four or five days out in the long-range forecast. The problem is, but the time that elusive date gets here, the chance is gone and the triple digits stretch out another seven days.
Even longtime western Kansas farmers, many of whom remember the 50s and the 80s when we went through severe droughts say the current drought is worse. And they talk frankly and serious about fears of ecological damage.
There was some talk of “Can the Dust Bowl happen again?” in last year’s severe heat and drought. The talk is how turning to “Is there any way we can stop another Dust Bowl?” For a number of people I’ve talked to recently, the answer to that question is “No, only rain can do that.”
Farming practices have given us an appreciable edge. Conservation Reserve Program acres are certainly better than plowed ground. And shelter belts help to slow the force of the wind.
The reality out there in the western grasslands however, is grim. There is no green in the CRP grass. It is dry and brittle and blowing out of the ground in a lot of places. Pastures are equally dry and brittle. Most of the cow-calf herds are gone.
Wheat harvest this year was about half of normal, thanks to a widespread snowstorm last December. But the amount of residue left behind after harvest is even less than half of normal, thanks to how short the crop was when it headed out. I saw at least two wheat stubble fields that were pretty dusty.
Row crops either weren’t planted or are dying, leaving the fields where they would be growing dangerously bare of residue and blowing. The tell-tale stripes of efforts at chiseling to hold the ground – even on no-till fields – are visible everywhere.
The drought is deepening, not just in Kansas where 28% of the state is now in extreme drought and another 51% is in severe drought, but all across the Midwest, the Mountain West and the Deep South.