2011-07-06 01:55:14In drought-hit Kansas, desperation is the only thing growing -- McClatchy News
John Hartz
John Hartz

Posted on Sun, Jul. 03, 2011

In drought-hit Kansas, desperation is the only thing growing

Beccy Tanner | Wichita (Kan.) Eagle

ELKHART, Kan. — Mary Coen apologizes for her dusty house.

She tells a visitor not to look at the windowsill in her farmhouse living room where a layer of dust has settled from the last burst of wind.

“The Good Lord hasn’t let it rain,” she says.

This summer, it doesn’t take much for the wind to kick up sand in western Kansas.

A 10 to 15 mph wind will cause the horizon to dim; at 30 to 40 mph, it darkens the sky and visibility is less than a 100 feet.

Much of Morton County is in an exceptional drought, the driest rating, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Already it is drier than the driest years of the Dust Bowl.

Since last September — 10 months ago — Morton County near Elkhart has received 2.99 inches of moisture. The normal average rainfall for that corner of Kansas is about 19 inches.

There was no dryland wheat harvested in the county this year; more than three-quarters of the county’s acres are dryland.

Farmers are selling cow-calf operations in record numbers because there is not enough feed. Newborn calves, less than a day old, are on the auction block.

Roads have been closed due to drifting sand, blocking access to gas and oil wells and causing some companies to shut the wells down temporarily.

Spring crops that are planted — corn, grain sorghum and soybeans — are done so on irrigated lands, or in the hope of collecting crop insurance.

It is so dry many western counties have banned fireworks for fear they could set off massive grass fires.

“I’d describe this drought as very bleak,” said Morton County agricultural extension agent Tim Jones. “You can’t do anything. It is hot, dry and windy. We are at a complete standstill.

“You can’t do anything agriculturally unless you have water. The irrigated people are trying to make it work that way. But all the dryland crops and cattle are barely hanging on.

“Until it rains, there just won’t be anything happening.”