KIMBALL – Our tri-state region of the High Plains is in a solidly semi-arid climatic zone. By definition, that means 10-20 inches of annual precipitation on average. At Kimball we’ve averaged about 16.8 inches of liquid precipitation each year for the last 123 years, and that’s as long as official records have been kept. More than half of that moisture – 9.8 inches – comes between May and August. Snow and rain in March-April and September-October add another five inches and the rest comes mainly as snow in the winter months.
Low average rainfall totals and the reality of nature’s variable climate means that the specter of drought is never very far away. The ecosystem of our region has evolved – since the glaciers retreated about 15,000 years ago – to easily survive drought conditions. When the rains fail to materialize the native grasslands simply go dormant and hold on to reserves of energy and moisture, waiting for the rains to return. These can be tough times for the animals that populate the region, as food becomes scarce and starvation whittles down populations. When the rains return, and food grows abundant, animal populations rebound.
It’s a little bit harder for farmers and ranchers to deal with drought. We human agriculturalists depend on nature’s annual cycle to allow us to produce an annual crop. Our system isn’t designed to hunker down and wait for the rains to return. In general, we get by when drought comes, but it isn’t easy and it isn’t pleasant.
The last drought we suffered at Kimball came in 2012 when we received only 8.3 inches of rain for the year. The one before that was in 2002, when 0nly 6.6 inches of precipitation came.
You can see how farmers and ranchers have become quite sensitive about precipitation.
Since the last drought (2013-2016) we’ve had annual precipitation of 14.4, 17.4, 27.0, and 18.13 inches. Thus far in 2017 we’re at 12.38 inches of liquid precipitation. We were quite dry in June and through most of July, but a wet spring allowed for solid cool season plant growth and summer rains came just in time to boost warm season growth. These last several seasons have been good years with abundant precipitation and abundant plant growth. With all of that food available, animal populations have boomed.
Nature’s bounty doesn’t always provide exactly what we want, however. In checking some pasture this week, grassland that I haven’t looked at since we went to summer grass, I was shocked to discover three active prairie dog burrows.
We’ve never had prairie dogs before.
From the grass farmer/rancher perspective, this is not a good thing. Prairie dogs can ruin grass production and grazing across a lot of acres.
At the moment we’re doing research and putting together a plan. It looks like the best time to control the infestation will be this autumn, and that control is much more easily achieved when the infestation is early and small.
We’ll see how it goes.
Another interesting aspect of precipitation across this part of the country is that a great deal of rain comes as the result of summer thunderstorms. Such storms can deliver a lot of rain very quickly, much more than the soil can absorb. The excess water runs downhill, and even though it comes as individual rain drops, water still weighs eight pounds per gallon. Flowing water has a lot of force.
Last week a locally heavy thunderstorm filled a gully on the ranch to a depth of more than six feet. Fortunately the fence I’d just rebuilt along the south side of I-80 was able to withstand the flow of water. I’m glad I put in the time and effort to do it right.