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Western Kansas Farmers Are Desperate For Rain

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And it's been a challenging spring for farmers in many states. Some fields are waterlogged, putting farmers behind with their planting schedule. Other places are in desperate need of rain.

We have two reports. We begin with Harvest Public Media's Eric Durbin, who takes us to western Kansas, where harvest time is approaching for wheat farmers.

ERIC DURBIN: There are parts of the Midwest that have received more rain in a single day than huge tracts of Kansas have seen since last fall. That's when farmers here planted hard red winter wheat. That's the wheat primarily used for making bread. The drought covers significant portions of Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma.

The Wheat Quality Council's annual wheat tour recently cataloged the crop and estimated a harvest almost 30 percent less than last year.

Farmer Jason Ochs walks through a field of yellowish-green wheat stalks almost two-feet tall. While in the field, Ochs gets word of another Hamilton County farmer whose fields were appraised at only three bushels per acre, 27 bushels below the county average.

Mr. JASON OCHS (Farmer): They won't even take that to harvest at that point in time. They'll tear it up and start conserving moisture for the next crop, as far as that goes. I've seen - or heard of several thousand acres where that's happened.

DURBAN: Dean Stoskopf is a former Kansas Wheat Commissioner. He says weather patterns over the next several weeks could potentially swing harvesting totals here by as much as 50 million bushels either way. But even if it rains now, farmers will still see low yields, and Stoskopf says that will show up in the price of bread, although not as much as you might expect.

Mr. DEAN STOSKOPF (Former Kansas Wheat Commissioner): The fluctuation from actually the amount of wheat that goes into a loaf of bread doesn't change a whole lot. We could have a really reduced crop, and from the wheat side of that, maybe a couple cents a loaf of - for bread.

DURBAN: In a normal year, Kansas produces more than 20 percent of the country's winter wheat crop. But experts predict a far smaller yield as farmers continue to deal with the effects of the extended drought here.

For NPR News, I'm Eric Durban in western Kansas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Durban