US drought hits farmers hard

July’s brutal heatwave in America – the hottest month on record for the continental US – has wilted crops, dried up rivers and fuelled wildfires. Farmers across the drought-ridden fields of Kansas are counting the costs.

The area of Kansas in “exceptional” drought more than doubled this week to nearly 40%, according to the latest US Drought Monitor Map. This is the second year my farm in Greenwood County, south-east Kansas has been in a drought. But this year it’s far more severe.

We had ample moisture in 2010, enabling us to run on subsoil moisture through much of 2011. This year did not start with good subsoil moisture, and everything from the lawn to trees along the creeks shows it. Records show this is the worst drought since the 1950s.

In a normal year, my farm would get around 430mm of rain from 1 April to 1 August; this year, it has had about 130mm. Coupled with day after day of temperatures above 100F (38C) – and as high as 110F (43C) – my crops and pastures have been devastated.

Most of my maize was chopped for silage a month ago. Several neighbours have baled their soya beans for hay, but I am holding off to see if the rain promised for 14-16 August materialises.

Like about 85% of farmers in the US, I carry crop insurance, which will help cover my losses on arable land.

I live in a county that is primarily devoted to raising cattle. But our government is not nearly as generous with the livestock sector, and livestock farmers will definitely bear the brunt of this drought.

I had to start feeding cattle on grass about six weeks ago when normally we would not feed until the middle to end of September.

Protein pellets at 25% protein are more than $100/t (£64/t) higher than last year and hay prices are double what they were two years ago.

“In a normal year, my farm would get around 430mm of rain from 1 April to 1 August; this year, it has had about 130mm”
Brian Hind

Obtaining water for stock is a big concern with problems in both quality and quantity. Our town council has just declared a water emergency regarding household water.

Last week a farmer 20 miles east of here lost 24 head of cattle to blue/green algae, which is only a problem during hot, dry weather.

Our tinder-dry grass is also much more fire-prone and our volunteer fire department has been mobilised seven times in the past 10 days.

As I write, today (Tuesday, 13 August) is the first day since 22 June with a high under 90F (32C). Let’s hope the worst of the heat is behind us.

  • The riverbed north of my house
  •  Heat-hit crops
  •  Livestock feed is in short supply
  •  Cow grazing is less than lush
  •  Many trees are turning brown
  •  Baled soya beans

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Brian Hind is a regular forum contributor under the name kansasfarmer. Talk to him and add your views on the US drought on our forum