The good news came in a December snowstorm that dumped almost 15 inches of snow on Lane County.
"That got the wheat in good enough shape for us to have a harvest," says Vance Ehmke. "Since then, we've had a total of only 3 to 4 inches of rain. This is the worst drought I have ever seen in my 37 years of farming here."
State climatologist Mary Knapp says Lane and Scott counties had only about two inches of rain in the wettest locations for the entire months of May and June, traditionally the wettest months of the year. And the really bad news – most of that fell in one storm on June 30.
Ehmke says rain in the next couple of weeks would probably be enough for him to get a milo harvest. But at best it won't be a big one because he planted only about a quarter of what he would have if conditions were better.
"I have some fields where I at least got a stand up," he says. "If it rains in the next couple of weeks, it will make it. If it doesn't . . ."
Ehmke says the drought in Lane County has been persistent since 2000, with some years worse than others. But 2011 and 2012 are giving drought a new definition.
"I'm actually scared about what we're facing if we don't get enough moisture to get a wheat crop out of the ground this fall," he said. "Last year, we averaged about 36 bushels to the acre of wheat with 15% abandonment. This year, we had about 33 bushels with 3% abandonment. But there are a lot of fields that were 10 and 15 bushels. There's very little straw out there and it's brittle and dry."
Fields that were in milo last year are in even worse shape. Harvest was so poor last year that residue is virtually non-existent. Thousands of acres of no-till have been chiseled in an effort to stop the dirt from blowing. On many days, it blows anyway.
"When you eliminate that layer of residue, then the thing that makes no-till work is gone," Ehmke said. "The amount of blowing we have at this time of year is a really worrisome."