Thursday, April 24, 2014

Snow has silver lining for farmers, wheat crop

By CRYSTAL HERBER, Herald Staff Writer | 2/27/2013

While many people view more than a foot of snow in less than a week’s time as a hassle, one group of Franklin County residents welcomed the wet weather — farmers.

The Spencer farm, at 2246 Ohio Terrace, southeast of Ottawa, received between 15 and 18 inches of snow after Tuesday’s winter weather event, Kevin Spencer, the farm’s owner, said. With more than 400 acres of wheat, Spencer said the snowfall will provide some much-needed moisture to the increasingly dry ground.

While many people view more than a foot of snow in less than a week’s time as a hassle, one group of Franklin County residents welcomed the wet weather — farmers.

The Spencer farm, at 2246 Ohio Terrace, southeast of Ottawa, received between 15 and 18 inches of snow after Tuesday’s winter weather event, Kevin Spencer, the farm’s owner, said. With more than 400 acres of wheat, Spencer said the snowfall will provide some much-needed moisture to the increasingly dry ground.

“The snow is going to be really good,” Spencer said. “It’s not going to really put a big dent in the drought at this point, but any time you get snow cover on wheat that’s a good thing.”

The hard red winter wheat crop is in dormancy right now, Darren Hibdon, extension agent with Frontier Extension District No. 11, said, so it will not be harmed by the snow. The main benefit the snow will have is providing moisture to the subsoil, Hibdon said.

“The benefit of getting our moisture and snow is it will melt slowly and take it into the soil,” Hibdon said, adding slow melting snow doesn’t produce the water runoff of rushing rains.

The dormant, or non-growing, wheat also is somewhat protected from the cold temperatures by the layer of snow, Hibdon said. The county definitely is not at the end of the drought, Hibdon said, but it’s a start.

Despite the nearly 18 inches of snow the area has seen in the past week, Mary Knapp agreed with Hibdon’s assessment that the drought isn’t over. Knapp, state climatologist with the Weather Data Library at Kansas State University, said the 18 inches of snow equates to less than 2 inches of precipitation. That’s not enough, she said, to make up for the severe drought.

“We may get 2 inches of liquid equivalent in the areas where heaviest snow fell, but when you look at the deficit, which is quite severe and 2 inches, while it’s very welcome, isn’t enough to erase the current drought patterns we’re in,” Knapp said.

The Ottawa Water Treatment Plant reported 8 inches of snowfall equating to 1.25 inches of precipitation Tuesday and Wednesday. High temperatures for the two days were just above freezing, which is good, Knapp said, because it allows for the moisture to soak into the soil. However, she added, the surface water levels — ponds, creeks and rivers — are not likely to rise significantly after this week’s precipitation.

The water plant has recorded 5.13 inches of total precipitation for the year, more than twice the year-to-date average of 2.56 inches. Nineteen total inches of snow have fallen this year, according to the water treatment plant. Knapp said the precipitation totals were similar to last year, which brought the area out of drought. However, she said, the dry conditions throughout last summer caused widespread drought to be declared once again.

Also beneficial to crops, Knapp said, are average temperatures have been about a half-degree cooler than the same time last year. That slight drop should allow crops to stay dormant longer, Knapp said, and push the growing season back to a more regular schedule.

The recent heavy snowfall wasn’t all good for the Spencer family, Spencer said. With livestock to feed, they too had to venture out in the storm dubbed by the National Weather Service as Winter Storm “Rocky,” he said. In the midst of calving season, Spencer said he lost a few calves because of the cold weather.

While the snow might cause delays, hassles and hazardous conditions for all, including the Spencer family, Kevin Spencer said people would do well not to complain too much about the wet and cold weather.

“As much trouble as it’s been for dealing with it, the moisture is much needed and the alternative would be a heck of a lot worse,” Spencer said.

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