Rain welcome, but it will take more than that

Friday, March 25, 2005

Throughout the Golden Plains, farmers and businessmen are talking about the beneficial effects of the rain that fell earlier this week. "It was a multi-million dollar rain for this area," said John Hanson, ag loan officer at the McCook National Bank.

As immense as the estimate sounds, you have to remember that we are talking about tens of thousands of cropland acres, spread over a dozen counties in Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas.

The rainfall -- which ranged from an inch to above two inches in the area -- was valuable because it came at an opportune time. "The moisture was especially beneficial for wheat, which was beginning to show signs of stress," said Ken Carriker, executive director of the Red Willow County Farm Service Agency.

Hopes were high early in the wheat crop cycle, as above average rainfall amounts were received in both October and November. But then the moisture shut off, with only four-hundredths of an inch received in December. January and February weren't much better, with less than half of an inch measured at the McCook Airport during the two opening months of 2005.

Having suffered through three years of drought -- and more in some cases -- area farmers are understandably worried that the dry days are coming back again.

That's why this week's soaking showers were such a relief. Still, as always, much more precipitation is needed, and it is needed soon. Historically, there's hope, as the five-month period between April 1 and August 31 is the heaviest rainfall period of the year in the Golden Plains. On average, close to 15 inches of rain falls in those five months, accounting for nearly three-fourths of the area's annual average of 21.62 inches of rain.

While we talk a lot about April showers and May flowers, it may surprise you to hear that the heaviest month for rainfall in Southwest Nebraska is July, when an average of 3.30 inches of precipitation falls. Other wet months, historically, are May, with an average of 3.26 inches, and June, with a 3.22-inch average.

Due to water restrictions, high fuel costs and low prices for commodities, rainfall is of critical importance this year for area cropgrowers. Yes, this week's rain was worth millions. But it will take all of that, and more, for farmers to make ends meet in the challenging 2005 crop year.

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