- Associated Press - Sunday, October 15, 2017

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) - Prompted by plentiful rains and full underground moisture, farmers in western Kansas are planting more acres of dryland corn, according to the Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service.

Data from the service showed southwest Kansas farmers planted 149,000 acres in 2016 - 133 percent more than in 2015. West-central Kansas is up about 59 percent, The Hutchinson News reported . Data from 2017 acreage is not yet available.

Hamilton County farmer Mark Schwerdfeger said he hadn’t planted much dryland corn - corn not irrigated from water sources like the Ogallala - in the past but his acreage this year is up “100 percent.”

“Most years, it seems like a taboo crop,” he said. “A few guys have done it in the past, but no one has really practiced it until the past few years. You go in understanding it will take a lot of moisture going in. It has always been a scary risk.”

Average rainfall is typically 16 to 18 inches a year in Hamilton County but some farmers have reported more than 26 inches of rain, according to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network.

Schwerdfeger said the quarter section of dryland corn he cut so far has been above average and neighbors are reporting yields ranging from 100 bushels an acre to around 120 bushels an acre.

The increase in dryland corn, along with soybeans in other parts of the state, means fewer acres of wheat and sorghum. Several grain elevators are receiving less sorghum this fall as farmers look for alternatives in a sluggish farm economy.

Kansas soybean acres are estimated at a record 4.75 million acres, up 17 percent from last year, according to the statistics service. Acres for dryland and irrigated corn are up 20 percent in the past two years. Cotton acreage increased 75 percent this year but sorghum acres are down about 20 percent since 2015.

Jerald Kemmerer, general manager at Dodge City-based Pride Ag Resources, said the cooperative’s elevators are seeing a bit more dryland corn acres rather than the dryland milo farmers planted last spring.

Dryland corn is “all over the place,” he said. “There are some pockets that are pretty decent. That is just how the rain fell.”

The continued rainfall might mean more dryland corn next year, taking several hundred acres out of wheat and some acres out of milo. In western Kansas, wheat has been a tougher profit because of low prices and the disease pressure farmers saw in June. In Hamilton County, it has been estimated that about half the wheat crop was affected by wheat streak mosaic virus. What should have made 60 to 70 bushels an acre made 25 to 30, Schwerdfeger said.

The corn, however, “has really done well.”

“It has been profitable so far, but any profit right now in this economy is great,” he said.

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Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, https://www.hutchnews.com

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