Did the weather just take a turn for the worse?

October 2023 is the 20th annual Cybersecurity Awareness month. (Photo courtesy of U of A System Division of Agriculture.)

Thanks to super optimum planting conditions last fall, many wheat farmers in the central and southern Plains now have some of the best-looking wheat stands in years. That was followed by a relatively wet winter that made the potential look even better. But did the weather just throw us a curve ball?

The predictions were that we were in an El Ni ñ o weather pattern that promised cool and wet weather well into the middle of the year. That forecast combined with our terrific stands had all of us wheat growers expecting nothing short of fantastic yields. Believe you me, we need 80-bushel yields just to break even because we have such low prices.

But maybe it wasn’t meant to be.

Bill Turner with the National Weather Service forecast office in Dodge City says the El Ni ñ o weather cycle is over. “El Ni ñ o fell apart quickly, and we are now heading into a strong La Ni ñ a,” he says. And, of course, that means mild and dry. If it happens that way, maybe our hope for career-high yields dries up and blows away, too.

 Several years ago, in a conversation with a K-State agronomist about global climate change, he pointed out that what we can expect with climate change is more and more extremes coming faster and faster—and with darned little time between them. From hot to cold or wet to dry, more of the same, and a lot of it.

Reflecting back over the past six weeks, we’ve had a lot of very warm and dry weather, and while we were basking in the upper 70s and 80s here in Kansas, wheat growers in Oklahoma were seeing 90s. They, too, were worried that their incredibly good-looking, thick, heavy, lush wheat was rapidly using up their moisture.

In looking at scores of wheat fields over the past few days, most still look just great, but here and there you can see a few blue spots and other signs of moisture stress. Still, Turner is quick to point out that the ability to accurately predict weather ends about 10 days out. Plus, three of our top five wettest months (April, May and June) are smack dab in front of us.  So maybe there’s hope after all.

What does all of this mean? We’ll know where we’re going when we get there.

Vance Ehmke is a farmer from Healy, Kansas.