For most livestock producers in the county the problem is not so much the heat — and according to National Weather Service there have been 14 days over 100 degrees so far this year, as the drought. While excessive heat has been a problem for the poultry farmers in the area, there have been reports of thousands of dead turkeys because of the heat, for other producers the on-going dry weather is posing problems of sufficient forage.
According to Cherokee County Extension Agent Dennis Elbrader a lack of standing forage is causing farmers to have to begin to feed the hay which had been put aside for winter — and the hay stocks are low as well.
Elbrader said producers will have to bring in forage if the area does not see significant rains by the middle of August into September.
“If we do receive that precipitation producers can compensate for forage loss by fertilizing and strip-grazing,” he said.
Strip-grazing means ranchers set up electric fences to keep cattle in strips of a pasture. According to Elbrader cattle simply turned loose on a pasture will use about 40 percent of the available forage while strip-grazing can raise usage to as much as 70 percent.
Water availability is also an issue for area ranchers as many farm ponds are drying up and Elbrader said many of the smaller creeks and branches are dry as well — or having a problem with blue-green algae.
“A lot of the ones that are not dry are so stagnant it may not be safe (for cattle or other livestock to drink),” he said, adding there were problems with blue-green algae in Grand Lake over the Independence Day holiday and he’s hearing reports of algal blooms in the area as well. “Rural water is always an option, but that’s expensive.”
NWS Meteorologist Mike Griffin said Thursday the area is down 7 inches in rainfall from the average since June 1.
According to a release from the governor’s office, the drought has already prompted Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to issue disaster declarations for 10 counties mostly in the western half of the state because of crop losses.
“Production losses caused by drought, wildfires, excessive rains, high winds, hail and flooding are having a devastating impact on Kansas farmers and ranchers,” Brownback said in the release. “An agricultural disaster declaration will make them eligible for emergency loans administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency, as well as any other aid that may be available through the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program approved in the 2008 farm bill.”
Elbrader said it was likely Cherokee County as well as some of the other southeastern tier counties would see a crop disaster declaration as well.
New Cherokee County Farm Service Agency Executive Director Renae Lucas said her agency would be asking for the declaration next week.
“I’ve got a meeting scheduled for Tuesday,” she said, adding they would “definitely” ask for a declaration on the corn crop and would be looking at the state of the hay and soybean crops as well.
Elbrader said as far as the corn crop went, with prices currently above $6 per bushel, farmers with crop insurance will probably do fairly well — if not as well as they would have had they been able to harvest.
“Sure they’d rather cut 130 bushel corn at $6.01 (per bushel) than take the insurance,” he said, adding the insurance is better than no crop.
There is little break in the weather projected, with Griffin saying for at least the next two weeks, the heat will continue.
He said today and tomorrow will show a slight break in the heat with temperatures in the mid- to lower-90s with a slight chance for thunderstorms.
“Some lucky folks will get a nice downpour,” he said, but added. “it won’t be much.”
Griffin said it may be fall before there’s a real break in the current pattern.
“We’re going to have to get a big cold front down here to push it out,” he said. “We don’t see anything like that in the next couple of weeks at least.”