Now the clean-up begins. Then, hopefully, comes planting (or replanting).
Two weeks of steady rain, with streams and rivers already swollen and the ground saturated from a wet winter, brought significant flooding across 16 counties in central Kansas in early May. Major flooding was still occurring over Mother’s Day on Cow Creek above Hutchinson and on the Little Ark and Big Ark Rivers from south of Wichita to Arkansas City. The Cottonwood River near Emporia was also still in flood in mid-May.
All that water — and the chilly temperatures that came with it — mean a slow start to planting season. As of May 6, only 41% of the corn crop, 5% of the soybean crop, 1% of sorghum and 4% of cotton was planted, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Normally, Kansas farmers have more the half of the corn acres planted by the first week of May.
The wheat crop is also at least one week to two weeks behind normal, with only 14% of the crop headed out compared to the average of 41%.
For McCurry Brothers Angus Farm near Mount Hope, the flooding of the Little Ark River meant rounding up cow-calf pairs and getting them to higher ground in a hurry. And the rising waters meant horseback was the only way to get the job done.
Greg McCurry posted a video of the action to his Facebook page with a caption reading “Thank God for neighbors and horsepower. The river is out.”
The good news, McCurry says, is that with quick action and help from neighbors, all the mamas and babies were successfully moved to higher ground.
For wheat grower Paul Penner in Marion County, the flooding meant watching water roll across field after field, some planted, some not, and some with green wheat standing in — or disappearing under — water.
For Chris Boyd, who farms in Barber County but had business that took him to Harvey and Reno counties, it meant driving carefully, watching for flooded roads and taking in the sight of whole fields underwater, some of them so deep that only the tops of center pivots were visible.
The city of Winfield experienced flooding on the Walnut River that not only inundated the fairgrounds and campgrounds but covered Highway 77 and spread toward downtown, requiring some people to be evacuated from their homes.
In Wellington, streets and homes flooded, residents had to be rescued and water from Slate Creek caused the Kansas Turnpike to be closed from the Wellington exit to the Oklahoma line. Highway 81 through town was also closed by floodwaters.
In Elmdale, a small community near Emporia, raging Cottonwood River flooded and inundated the town.
Rural school kids all over central Kansas got an unexpected holiday from school as roads were covered in swift, running water.
Damaged roads, bridges
Receding floodwaters revealed something that’s going to take considerable time and money to fix — washed out roads, culverts and damaged bridges. In Cowley County alone, at least 11 roads were still closed by May 13, due to either high water or damage from flooding.
Gov. Laura Kelly signed a disaster declaration for Barber, Chase, Clark, Cowley, Geary, Greenwood, Harvey, Marion, Meade, Neosho, Osage, Ottawa, Reno, Rice and Sumner counties.
That flood disaster declaration is in addition to Doniphan, Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties in northeast Kansas, which have seen ongoing flooding from the Missouri River since late March. The disaster declarations will enable those counties to access special funding for recovery.
More cotton acres still expected
The inability to get into fields means more farmers may be switching from planting corn to soybeans or sorghum, which have shorter grower seasons.
For cotton growers, the intentions are still there to set another record for the acres in Kansas. Cotton growers like to have the crop planted in early May, but it’s better to wait than to plant in soil that is too cold and wet, according to Rex Friesen, Southern Kansas Cotton Growers Cooperative agronomist.
Flooded fields across Sumner and Cowley counties, the heart of cotton acres in Kansas, were also bad news for those farmers who still have bales or modules in the fields awaiting pick up by the gin.
Friesen says getting those bales out is just going to have to wait until the fields dry up enough to permit traffic.
All of Kansas’s cotton gins are running 7-day, 24-hour operations, Friesen says, and he is hopeful that south-central Kansas will finish ginning by the end of June.
“It seems like we are going full tilt and then something happens,” he says. “When we run into bales that are wet, we have to slow down. But so far, we are seeing good quality and lots of it. And if we get the right weather to get planted, we’re going to have more acres than ever this year.”