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Kansas 20 Inches of Snow Easing Drought Stress on Parched Wheat

A snowstorm that’s already forced shutdowns of government offices in Kansas is bringing some much-needed moisture for dormant wheat crops across the Great Plains, where last year’s drought eroded crop conditions.

About 14 inches (36 centimeters) fell overnight in Hutchinson, Kansas, and accumulation may reach 20 inches by the time the storm passes east out of the state, National Weather Service data show. Governor Sam Brownback closed state offices today, and wheat futures on the Chicago Board of Trade fell the most in seven weeks.

Winter wheat that account for more than 70 percent of U.S. production has been dormant since about November and will resume growth in April and May. Most of the crop will be harvested in June. Prices surged 19 percent last year as the worst drought since the 1930s left fields in their worst condition since the government began keeping the data in 1985.

“It’s never too late to get a drink of water,” Jim Shroyer, an agronomist at Kansas State University in Manhattan, said in a telephone interview. “We’ll take this, but we’ll be living hand to mouth and looking for the next rain. Everybody’s pretty excited about this snow.”

While Shroyer estimates crops will get an inch of moisture for every foot of snow, most of the Great Plains remains unusually dry. In Kansas, the biggest U.S. grower of winter wheat, the U.S. Drought Monitor says more than 75 percent of the state has soil moisture at less than 5 percent of normal, widespread water shortages and major crop and pasture losses.

Prices Drop

Wheat futures for May delivery plunged 2.9 percent to settle at $7.24 a bushel at 2 p.m. on the CBOT, the biggest drop since Jan. 2. Prices are down 6.9 percent this year. On the Kansas City Board of Trade, wheat futures for May delivery slid 2.6 percent to $7.6725 a bushel.

Hard-red winter wheat is grown in the southern Plains, and soft-red winter varieties used in cakes and cookies are planted in the eastern Midwest.

The snowfall is arriving at a critical time, just before plants emerge from dormancy, Gail Martell, a meteorologist and the president of Martell Crop Projections in Milwaukee. As little as 5 percent of normal precipitation has fallen in parts of the southern Great Plains in the past six months, National Weather Service data show.

“It will help greatly,” Martell said by telephone. “Winter is normally kind of a dry season in the southern Plains, so anything above normal is a good thing, particularly this year.”

Brief Relief

The storm won’t end the drought, Larry Glenn, a grains analyst at Frontier Ag in Quinter, Kansas, said by telephone.

“It’ll be beneficial, but it’s not going to be enough to put water back in the ponds,” he said. “We won’t get that much runoff. For that, we’ll need some pretty heavy rain.”

The storm is boosting optimism for farmers in parts of Kansas that haven’t had precipitation in at least six months, said Jeff McReynolds, the owner of McReynolds Marketing & Investments in Hays, Kansas.

“I don’t remember ever getting 17 inches of snow,” McReynolds, 50, said by telephone. “It’s highly unusual, and it’s going to be a substantial amount of moisture.”

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