Story & Photos by Robyn Scherer, M.Agr.

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January 22, 2013
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Drought forecasted to be persistent

Last year was marked one of the most devastating droughts the U.S. has seen, and if predictions are correct, the coming year may be just as tough if there is no moisture.

On January 17, the Climate Prediction Center released their U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook. “Since the beginning of 2013, drier and colder weather prevailed over the West after a relatively wet December. In the Great Basin and central Rockies, two-week temperature departures averaged 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit below normal,” said David Miskus, Senior Meteorologist for the Climate Prediction Center.

He continued, “Mostly dry weather exacerbated drought conditions in the Southwest, central Plains and western Corn Belt, and eastern Gulf and southern Atlantic Coasts.”

Miskus then went on to talk about the future forecast. “During the upcoming three months, a much drier pattern is expected across the southern third of the Nation (from central California to the eastern Gulf Coast). In contrast, enhanced probabilities of surplus precipitation and subnormal temperatures across the northern U.S. (from the northern Rockies eastward to the upper Midwest and into the western Corn Belt) increase the odds for drought improvement,” he stated.

According to data from the National Climate Data Center, last year at its peak 61.8 percent of the U.S. experienced moderate to extreme drought, the highest recorded level since 1956. This drought has led nearly 600 counties, roughly 20 percent of those in the country, to be declared drought disaster areas in 2013.

USDA said, “The 597 counties have shown a drought intensity value of at least D2 (Drought Severe) for eight consecutive weeks based on U.S. Drought Monitor measurements, providing for an automatic designation.”

The reason for the early declaration is due mainly to the struggling wheat crop, and growers have begun reporting the progress and condition of their crops.

The end of the month crop progress report for Nebraska showed how the state is fairing. “Wheat conditions statewide rated 15 percent very poor, 34 poor, 37 fair, 14 good, and 0 excellent, well below last year when 74 percent of the crop rated good or excellent,” according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Nebraska Field Office.

The state did receive some moisture, but not enough to pull them out of the drought. “For the month of December 2012, unseasonably warm and dry weather the first half of the month was followed by rain and snow that brought some much needed moisture to the state. Temperatures averaged above normal but lows fell below zero the last half of the month,” the report stated.

It continued, “The majority of the state saw temperatures average 1 to 5 degrees above normal during December. Topsoil temperatures ranged from 21 to 34 degrees during the last week of the month and in general were cooler in the central third of the state. The eastern third and southern tier of counties received from .7 to 2 inches of precipitation, while much of the remainder of the state received a half inch or less.”

Nationally, wheat acres planted was up by one percent this year, and in Nebraska, acres planted was up seven percent with 1.48 million acres planted. It is expected that 41.8 million acres were seeded this year.

“Seeding began last August but by the middle of September was behind the 5-year average as producers waited for improved soil moisture levels. However, by the end of October, seeding had progressed ahead of last year and the 5-year average. More acres were seeded this year due to the early row crop harvest and higher prices,” the report stated about winter wheat.

It continued with the report on hard red winter wheat. “Hard Red Winter (HRW) wheat seeded area is about 29.1 million acres, down 2 percent from 2012. Acreage changes from last year are mixed across the growing region. Growers in Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas planted significantly more acres this year while large acreage decreases occurred in Colorado, Kansas, Montana, and the Dakotas. Widespread drought conditions and lack of moisture continues to be a concern across much of the HRW growing area,” according to the report.

Although as of Jan. 17 no areas in Nebraska had been designated as drought disaster areas, there is some relief for farmers in 17 Nebraskan counties because they border counties where drought disaster areas have been declared.

The states of Missouri, Kansas and Colorado were included in the declaration, so the counties of Nemaha, Otoe, Richardson, Dundy, Franklin, Furnas, Harlan, Hitchcock, Nuckolls, Red Willow, Webster, Chase, Cheyenne, Deuel, Dundy, Keith, Kimball and Perkins are all eligible for drought assistance.

The drought disaster designation, which was made by Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, on January 9, did not include Nebraska because the state’s established grazing season has not yet started. This season runs from May 1 through October 27.

“Producers are encouraged to contact their local FSA Service Center for detailed information about available programs and updated Secretarial Disaster Designations,” Farm Service Agency (FSA) State Executive Director, Dan Steinkruger, said in a written statement released by the FSA.

The sign up for 2011 crop losses started on October 22, and will run through June 7. Payments for these losses are provided through the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payment Program (SURE). This program gives farmers benefits who had farm revenue losses due to natural disaster that occurred during 2011.

The biggest benefit farmers and ranchers receive is access to low-access disaster loans.

To be eligible, farms must reside in counties that have drought declarations,that have incurred crop production or quality losses, or both, and includes all crops grown by a producer nationwide except grazed crops. Farms can also be eligible if, for that crop year, the actual production on the farm because of disaster-related conditions is 50 percent or less than normal production on the farm.

The National Drought Mitigation Center reported that all of the counties in Nebraska are suffering from some level of drought, with more than half the state designated as exceptional drought. A total of 96 percent of the state is classified as severe or exception in its drought status. ❖

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The Fence Post Updated Oct 16, 2013 03:01PM Published Mar 11, 2013 11:30AM Copyright 2013 The Fence Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.