Crawford County farmers and ranchers could face more difficult decisions in the coming months, National Weather Service and Wildcat Extension District officials said Monday.

Crawford County farmers and ranchers could face more difficult decisions in the coming months, National Weather Service and Wildcat Extension District officials said Monday.

The county is in the middle of a severe drought, said Mike Griffin, a meteorologist with the NWS in Springfield, Mo. Crawford, Cherokee and Bourbon Counties have received about 2.5 inches below average rainfall for the month of October, Griffin said. Since the beginning of September, the counties are 3.5 inches in the hole, and are 8.5 inches below normal for the year.

“When you come off a hot, dry summer, it's pretty bad,” Griffin said, adding that the counties just west of Crawford County are currently experiencing extreme drought conditions. “It’s affecting agriculture and hydrology, which is water systems, ponds, creeks and rivers. Everything’s dried up, dried out or very, very low.”

The culprit for the drought, Griffin said, is the La Niña effect. La Niña, according the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific, compared to El Niño, which is characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.

“From southern Kansas into Oklahoma and Texas, they’ve seen the worst drought in years,” Griffin said. “It’s not bringing many rain makers across the southern U.S. to give them the rainfall they normally would see.”

Griffin said to expect dry conditions throughout the winter months.

“It’s going to be dryer than normal,” Griffin said. “Temperature-wise, we’ll be on the edge of slightly warmer to near normal.”

That’s already becoming a problem for area farmers and ranchers, said Wildcat District Extension Agent Dean Stites. Farmers have seen serious reduction in corn and soybean yields, Stites said. Where livestock is concerned, ranchers are facing a serious shortage of forage.

“Typically, we have a lot of fescue for cattle, but this year, since there’s been no rain, there's no grass growth,” Stites said. “That means there's no grazing, which means cattlemen are having to feed them hay.”

That’s bad news, Stites continued, because ranchers typically graze their cattle into the early part of December, and rely on hay for roughage during the harshest winter months.

“Since they started three months early, they have to have an additional three months of hay, and there just wasn't that much production,” Stites said, adding that hay production was likely down between 30 and 40 percent this year. “There’s good chance we’re going to have hay shortage before the spring grass comes around.”

Texas and Oklahoma farmers and ranchers have been experiencing massive hay shortages for months, and have relied on shipments of it from northern states such as Canada and Nebraska. Some of that generosity could end up costing Kansas farmers later.

“Farmers might be skimping on hay to conserve for later,” Stites said. “What some of these guys may feed their livestock is anybody’s guess.
There have been a lot of things bailed that they wouldn't normally bale, just to get more roughage.”

And the possibility of shipping it in from elsewhere?

“Where's it going to come from?” Stites said. “Texas and Oklahoma have been sucking things dry from everywhere else.”