The Arkansas River broke through a berm and rushed through the north side of the Burgess’ corn field, about a quarter of a mile south of the river’s original boundary.
Geoff and Jenny Burgess farm west of Nickerson. The heavy rains and flooding that broke the Arkansas into their fields also turned the nearby town into a de facto island, as well as covering acres of cropland in water throughout the state during the month of May.
According to Kansas State University service climatologist Mary Knapp, most of the state saw near or record-breaking rainfall for the month of May. Hutchinson recorded 15.99 inches of rain during the month, making it the city’s wettest May on record.
“Statewide average precipitation for May was 10.24 inches, which is the wettest May in the state’s recorded history,” Knapp said. “And it’s actually the wettest month, period, for the state in our records from 1895 to the present.”
Southwest Kansas averaged 7.2 inches of precipitation, over two times its normal rainfall; southeast Kansas averaged 17.14 inches, nearly three times its normal; and south-central Kansas averaged 14.32 inches, over three times its normal for the month of May.
Twenty mesonet stations also reported rainfall amounts over 20 inches, with a Butler County station reporting over 30 inches for the month.
Along with raising rivers and blocking roads, the rains put a halt to corn and cotton planting, washed out already planted fields, created an environment for disease, and now may cause further delays in not only planting but also wheat harvest.
• Coloring was 92 percent, behind 97 last year and 48 average.
• Mature was 47 percent, well behind 82 last year.
• Harvested was 5 percent, well behind 48 last year and 36 for the five-year average.
• Winter wheat condition rated 4 percent very poor, 12 poor, 28 fair, 43 good and 13 excellent.
While the cool, wet climate was welcome for the head-fill stage of wheat, damage was caused by severe storms, and standing water in fields did the Kansas crop no favors.
Kansas State University wheat disease specialist Erick DeWolf reported signs of premature death caused by standing water and saturated soils in south-central Kansas toward the end of May, as well as increasingly severe cases of stripe rust in south-central Kansas and parts of southwest and northwest Kansas. As waters receded, signs of premature death were seen in other parts of the state as well.
The first week of June saw some dry days, but according to Knapp, the monthly outlook isn’t promising for farmers looking to get back into fields long term.
“The quantitative precipitation outlook is the most alarming number,” she said. “It’s showing 2 to 4 inches of rain by June 7, the week after that has a greater probability of above average precipitation across the state, and the three-month outlook is similar with a higher probability to be wetter than average.”
With that kind of outlook, problems could shift from delays getting crops into the field to getting them out.
“Wheat harvest is going to be a nightmare,” Jenny Burgess said in early June. “Where the wheat is thin, pigweeds and mare’s tail are starting to emerge. Thin wheat is due to the late planting last year because of rain, again.”
• Corn emerged was 92 percent, behind 100 last year and 98 average.
• Silking was 3 percent, behind 12 last year and 9 average.
• Corn condition rated 3 percent very poor, 10 poor, 37 fair, 43 good and 7 excellent.
Many Kansas farmers managed to get corn planted before rains and floods hit the state, but that didn’t mean it was safe.
Early corn in standing water was choked out and flowing floodwaters washed away seeds and small plants alike. According to K-State row crop pathologist Doug Jardine, areas under standing water will need to be replanted (or abandoned), while farmers will have to evaluate stands in saturated areas and decide.
Jardine said the organism that causes “crazy top” likes wet soils and grows with the plant, causing it to never form a tassle or ear, but finding a field heavily affected is rare. He said wet weather also causes potential for stalk rot in the fall.
“The greatest risk is southern corn rust,” Jardine said. “When we get our corn planted on time, it’s far enough into maturity by the time we see southern corn rust that it isn’t a problem, but the last few years some late planted corn has been hit and it caused around 10 percent yield loss.”
Standing or running water can also strip corn plants of nutrients, such as nitrogen, which is a mobile nutrient. Standing water can cause nitrogen to leach into the soil, unused by the plant, and running water can carry nitrogen off the field as it flows.
Delays have affected the markets as well, with large fluctuations in corn futures.
"Grain markets have moved higher," K-State agricultural economist Dan O'Brien said June 7. "I think they are still digesting right now, seeing what damage could be done to the crop."
December corn closed at $4.43 and three quarters June 7. It hit a high point at $4.54 May 29 and a low May 13 at $3.63 and three quarters.
"So it's been very volatile," O'Brien said. "That's about an 85 or 90 cent move, and there's still uncertainty about where it will go."
That uncertainty and market shifts have been heavily influenced by delays in planting, washout and more. Trade issues and early rains had a negative impact on the market, but pessimism about shorter crop production had taken over the market, O'Brien said.
He added that similar things may happen in other markets, but determination for acres on other competitive crops was not as far along in early June.
• Soybeans planted was 84 percent, behind 97 last year and 90 average.
• Emerged was 68 percent, well behind 90 last year, and behind 78 average.
• Soybean condition rated 4 percent very poor, 9 poor, 44 fair, 39 good and 4 excellent.
Precipitation is causing more delays for soybean planting than for corn. A few sunny, dry days during the first week of June saw Kansas farmers hitting fields hard to get the crop in the ground.
“We are hoping that we can finish planting soybeans this weekend into next week, but it is going to be a lot of going around mud holes and water to do so,” Burgess said May 30. “We currently only have 90 acres of 200 planted.”
Wet conditions can also spur several disease issues. According to Jardine, seedling blight could be a problem this year, as well as sudden death syndrome, which happens when planting into very wet soil.
“If farmers don’t normally treat for seedling blight, this is the year to do it,” he said.
Other potential problems are phytophthora root rot and frogeye leaf spot, assuming soybeans are planted and emerge.
• Sorghum planted was 77 percent, behind 94 last year and 88 average.
• Headed was 2 percent, near 4 last year, and equal to average.
• Sorghum condition rated 0 percent very poor, 3 poor, 30 fair, 62 good and 5 excellent.
Rain had yet to threaten grain sorghum in early June. Burgess said they planned to plant sorghum the first week of June, along with soybeans.
K-State cropping systems specialist Ignacio Ciampitti said sorghum was a valuable option for farmers kept from planting other crops.
“If the weather allows us to get back in the field by mid-June then we should be fine,” Ciampitti said. “At this point, sorghum is a very valuable option for many farmers looking at rotation and stable yields with the delay in planting time.”
Jardine said frequent rains could result in some cases of sooty stripe among sorghum.
• Cotton planted was 98 percent, near 99 last year, but ahead of 89 average.
• Squaring was 1 percent, well behind 27 last year, and behind 9 average.
• Cotton condition rated 7 percent very poor, 19 poor, 44 fair, 27 good and 3 excellent.
Rainfall caused real problems for Kansas cotton farmers. The crop needs specific conditions for planting and enough warm days throughout the growing season to finish. This creates a short window for planting, a large portion of which was interrupted by storms and saturated fields.
However, some farmers were able to get into fields at the end of May and beginning of June.
“It really depends on where you are,” said Rex Friesen, consultant with Southern Kansas Cotton Growers Co-op. “In southern Kansas, guys have been planting a lot of acres, but up north a lot of guys may be quitting because it’s still too wet.”
Cotton acres in Kansas have increased steadily over the past few years and were expected to increase significantly this year. That didn’t happen. Friesen said weather kept many farmers out of the field too long.
“Now we’re going the wrong way,” he said. “We expected a lot more acres, but instead we’re having a significant decrease.”
Weather troubles haven’t stopped there. Friesen said even acres that were planted are seeing issues from rain and wind as they emerge. Driving rain and flooding can take out portions of cotton fields, but so can sand blowing in hard winds, coming from sandy soils in southern and central Kansas.
All statistics were taken from the June 23 United States Department of Agriculture weekly Kansas Crop Progress and Condition Report.