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Dry weather impacts on harvest and planting explained

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center predicts with good probability the chance of a warmer, drier winter and early spring than normal, especially throughout the West and Midwest. La Niña conditions are likely to continue through the Northern Hemisphere throughout the winter and into spring 2021. 

Kansas State University’s (KSU) Agriculture Today podcast featuring KSU Northeast Area Crops and Soils Extension Specialist Stu Duncan provides an update on fall crop harvests and crop planning considerations for a potentially warm, dry winter and spring. 

Harvest updates

Corn yields this year have been surprisingly good, with most farmers seeing high yields, says Duncan. As temperatures increased in July and August, there were some bean losses. Although, bean yields have generally been good unless planted late. 

Sorghum harvest has been a strong point this fall, picking up with good yields. 

With higher temperatures and dry conditions, some producers are worried about their water supply and their feed supply throughout the winter. Potential hay shortages are to be expected, Duncan notes, especially as producers are starting to see intermittent ponds dry out. 

“We are seeing great harvesting weather,” he laughs. “But, its not so great for seeding wheat and getting ready for the fall.” 

Early planted wheat is looking a lot better and has seen much better growth than that planted later in the season, Duncan adds. 

Dry weather farming

“It is dry, and the ground is hard,” Duncan states. “It is going to take a lot of rain to get seeded plants up now.”

He shares even a light turbo-tilling cutting residue can be expected to blow, even if there is residue still left on the ground. 

“It is predicted to be a dryer winter,” he says. “Add some wind to our dry soil and we could see some soil move.” 

Duncan notes anhydrous ammonia is applied in the fall for a spring nitrogen source, but requires moisture in the soil to activate the reactions changing ammonium into nitrate, as well as seal the nutrients into the soil. If producers don’t see a good seal, there may be instances of gas leak. 

In terms of winter weed control, Duncan reminds farmers weeds need to be actively growing and alive in order to absorb any herbicides applied. 

A dry spring is likely to follow the dry winter, aligning with weather patterns connected to a La Niña event. Duncan recommends using good judgment in planning ahead as normal, but being prepared to pivot or shift. 

“In preparation for next spring, make plans and follow through to the greatest ability,” he shares. 

He continues with an example, “This year, some folks planted sorghum, either planning to or forced into it, and they hit a home run.” 

Duncan recommends contacting local Extension agents to discuss planting drought-tolerant crops or hybrids known to do well in drought conditions, as well as discuss potential changes to planting dates. 

“Be patient, and stay alert,” Duncan recommends. “Plan for a normal year, and plan for success.”

Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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