On the heels of a hot and dusty summer, Drew Halderson and his wife, Rachael, welcomed their first child, and enough rainfall to salvage a decent fall harvest.
Blessings like these, the Delphos-area farmer agrees, have been worth the wait.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” Halderson said.
His daughter, Parker Grace, was born Aug. 3, and over the past two weeks, the land Drew farms with his father, Dane Halderson, has soaked in some 6 inches of moisture.
“It seems like we’ve had rain more days than we haven’t, favorable temperatures, too,” Drew Halderson said. “They have been timely, and really nice rains.”
Moisture totals varied widely since late August; 2 1/2 and 3/12 inches on fields near Assaria in southern Saline County, 3 or more inches near Smolan, and a tad more than 4 inches on the Justin Knopf farm north of Gypsum in southeastern Saline County.
Other fields didn’t get a drop.
“You don’t have to go far to find people who have not been as fortunate as us with their weather,” Halderson said.
He doubles as a crop adjuster.
“We wouldn’t be where we’re at right now without those rains we got in late June and July,” he said. “We seemed to always have enough of a shower to keep us going.”
Crop stands tall
The family posed for photos Wednesday night in 4-foot-tall soybeans making grain in a nonirrigated field. The crop normally grows only to about knee high.
Tall foliage is no guarantee of a good yield, Drew Halderson admits, but he’s hopeful for yields in the range of 50 to 60 bushels to the acre. Last year’s average was 35 to 40.
With improved yield prospects for grain sorghum (a.k.a. milo), and possibly one more cutting of alfalfa and other forage, some in these parts could offset a bit of their ho-hum wheat harvest.
Politics and other market pressures added another bane this summer.
“We need a higher yield to make up for the lower prices,” Halderson said.
At the very least, those rains injected hope.
“Our wheat harvest was the poorest average yield since 2007, which was a freeze year,” Knopf said, referring to an average yield in the “upper 30s.”
Averages in Saline and Ottawa counties usually fall between 40 and 45 bushels to the acre, said Tom Maxwell, agricultural Extension agent for those two counties. Last year’s take was 10 or more bushels per acre below average.
“If we could have a good yielding fall crop, that would really help balance out the year,” Knopf said.
Rain saves beans
Rains graced these plains just in time to save his soybeans.
“We probably lost some yield potential due to heat and a lack of rainfall,” Knopf said. “I’m amazed at the resiliency of our soybeans. A lot of that is a testament to improved genetics.”
He added that the “mid- to later-planted grain sorghum certainly benefited from these rains as well.”
But precipitation reinforcements didn’t arrive in time for the corn.
“I have one field that we’re gonna harvest for grain. Yield will be mediocre at best,” Knopf said.
Typically, corn that is judged to not meet yield standards for grain alone is “chopped for silage,” he said, and that was the case this year.
Precipitation also preserved feed sources for farm critters. Cattle producers were beginning to wonder until late-summer storms brought help, said Vaughn Isaacson, a farmer and rancher in southern Saline County.
“A lot of people planted sedan (also called forage sorghum) into the wheat stubble right after harvest, and things were pretty desperate. Cattle guys were in trouble,” he said.
Sedan, a crop that’s either chopped and ensiled, or baled, struggled early.
“There was going to be a dramatic shortfall of feed this winter,” Isaacson said. “The rain improved it by a lot. Instead of being real short the (cattle feed) is going to be adequate.”
The searing summer was a “nightmare” for alfalfa producers, he said, but recent showers should make a difference for them as well.
“The guys are excited about this rain,” Maxwell said. “This is a very welcoming thought, that we will get a final cutting of alfalfa at the end of the growing season.”
For some, that means a fifth cutting, but the Haldersons are eyeing just a fourth.
“The rains made us lose a cutting because we weren’t able to get into the fields in a timely manner,” Drew Halderson said. “It would have to get warm and stay warm for awhile to get a fourth cutting.”
He still figures there will be plenty of feed for their cattle this winter.
Drought did take a toll on the alfalfa, Isaacson said.
“The thing that’s done the best in Kansas this summer has been pigweed,” he said. “The quality of the alfalfa has dropped off some, but we’ve gotta feel pretty good about going into the winter with our feed situation now.”
Results will be “variable,” Extension agent Maxwell said. He measured just more than 5 inches of rain Sept. 3 through 7 at his home a few miles northeast of Salina.
“If you got rain, it probably took the crops from below average to maybe average potential,” Maxwell said, referring to all of the fall crops except corn, which finished making grain before the rains came.
“For the grain sorghum and soybeans, this has been a lifesaver,” he said.
A potential downside from the rain could be “water-logged soil and flooding,” Maxwell warned. “It can cause poor aeration in the soil and a lack of nitrogen fixation. We could see some premature yellowing in low spots, but I don’t expect it to be widespread.”
In other cases the soybeans are beginning to yellow, he said, indicating they’re maturing.
Good dryland sorghum yields in this area reach 90 bushels to the acre and above, Maxwell said, while the average is 70 to 75. He places average soybean yields in the low 30 bushels an acre; 40 and above would be considered a good crop.
The rain gift will keep on giving.
“There are much more optimistic conditions going into wheat seeding time,” Knopf said.
Winter wheat planting begins on the Knopf farm during the first week of October.
“But as a reminder. The rain also brought on a bunch of volunteer wheat (that aids in the spread of wheat streak mosaic),” he said. “We’ll have to take care of that in the next seven days.”
Whatever becomes of this fall harvest, 2018 has left an indelible mark on the new daddy from Delphos.
“I’ll always remember this summer and fall,” Drew Halderson said, referring to Parker Grace, and with some lush crops finishing in the fields, he added, “It’s beginning to look like I’ll remember it for more than one reason.”