Western Kansas.

By Richard C. Snell

Barton County Extension Agriculture Agent.

Whether the year 2000 is part of the old millennium or part of the new one, I don't know.

One thing I do know is that this past year was one of extremes, in terms of weather.

Weather is a major factor in agriculture. That is true not only for growing crops, but also in raising livestock. Temperature extremes may be a bigger factor than moisture patterns. In Kansas, we are used to wide swings in weather, due to location. However, in the last year, we saw more extremes than we have in a several years.

Most of us have short memories. We only recall those things that have a direct impact on us and that is only human nature. We can be thankful, in the Golden Belt, in 2000, we had no killer tornadoes, no hurricanes and no earthquakes. We didn't have any massive wildfires, but we did have a couple of fatal fires not far from us that were related to changing temperatures, in the spring and fall.

Probably the biggest weather event that affected Great Bend and a strip from northwestern Barton County down through eastern Stafford County was the massive hail storm that hit in late June. It not only hammered a lot of vehicles and houses on the west side of Great Bend, but also destroyed a lot of crops, in the area.

The year started off with a bang, not only from the fireworks that brought in the new year, but with a big snow storm Jan. 3. We had 12 inches of snow in our area, but it was in a narrow band and not many other places got it. It was the biggest snow we had experienced for a while. That is one of the things that saved our wheat crop after a dry fall.

The other unusual precipitation we got in 2000 was the six to nine inches of rain we received the third week of July. I don't know if I have ever seen it "come up" and rain an inch every night for about six nights in a row. Once again very few places in Kansas or Nebraska got this, but it probably saved a lot of the summer corn and milo crop, in our area.

The moisture extreme for us in 2000 was that we received about 35 inches of moisture for the year in the Great Bend area. Now with that much you would have thought we had a flood or raised a phenomenal crop. The problem was, in between the rains we had some very long hot dry periods. When we did get rain or snow, the ground sucked it right up. Much of the year was like right now, in that we have ponds and wetland areas that are dry that I haven't seen dry in several years.

In terms of temperatures, we often worry about late spring freezes or early fall freezes on the crops, but we didn't have that.

What we did have was the worst heat we have had for 20 years, in the summer, and in the late part of the year, some of the coldest temperatures we have had for over 10 years.

The summers have trended hot and dry in August and September the last few years and that has made raising soybeans very difficult. It seems when you get a lot of 100 degree days, it is hard for plants to reproduce, even when moisture is plentiful, and if it is a little lacking, you have real problems. Plants basically run out of energy in the heat, much like we do.

Some crops benefited from the weather on the whole. It wasn't a bad year for the alfalfa growers. Some cuttings were a little bit short and at times the humidity was so low they couldn't get the crop baled like they wanted, even in the early morning hours.

The 30-degree below wind chill in December is the coldest for a long time. What has really struck me though it hasn't been the near zero lows as much as the sub- freezing highs. We haven't had a lot of snow cover, so the ground probably has frozen deeper than for several years. We haven't had much real winter lately and it may help kill some of our high insect numbers we have had. On the other hand, I am sure the cold weather has been tough on cattle and the people taking care of them.

I am a little concerned with our current wheat crop and the dry, cold. Some of it didn't get much growth since it was planted late. We may see some winterkill and, if we don't get some additional moisture, we could have some blowing soil about March.

I don't think there is such a thing as a normal year, just extremes that average out over the long haul. But the year 2000 may be about as extreme as they come.

Now, back to "that millennium thing."

Even though we celebrated the new millennium last New Year's eve, I guess we can do it again, because now a lot of people are saying that the year 2000 really is the final year of the second thousand years, since we have been officially keeping track of time. If you think about it, I see where they are coming from. It matters very little really, other than we will have two years in a row that we can celebrate, that people won't be able to for another thousand years. So, in the coming year, as you are making your new year's resolutions and throughout your lifetime, let's vow to make the world a better place to live. Let's work to make 2001 the best year ever.

I hope that the coming year is a good one for you. If there is anything we can do on the educational side to make your life better, give us a call, at 316-793-1910, or stop by our office, at 1800 12th St., in Great Bend.

Happy New Year!.

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