EL RENO — The grin on David Harman's face had a lot to do with the kernels of wheat about an inch deep in the sandy loam soil.
This week, following recent rains, Harman started planting wheat on his farm in Canadian County.
While the precipitation received in Oklahoma was certainly not enough to end the drought, rainfall in portions of the state was enough for some farmers, including Harman, to plant.
The U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday showed 99.71 percent of Oklahoma remains in severe to exceptional drought.
However, the percentage of the state in the worst category, exceptional drought, has come down from 42.09 percent two weeks ago to 28.21 percent this week.
“We've had such a dry summer, and I was beginning to wonder if it would ever rain again,” Harman said while sitting in the cab of his John Deere tractor.
“Fortunately, we got a good soaking rain, which is what we needed. It's a little bit later than maybe we would have liked, but not too late to get a good wheat crop in the ground.”
In Harman's area
The onset of the current drought can be traced to early May. Between May 1 and Sept. 24, El Reno received 7 inches of rainfall. That's about 12 inches below normal, according to the Oklahoma Mesonet weather network.
Since Oct. 1, 2010, El Reno is about 20 inches below normal rainfall totals. In the days since Sept. 24, El Reno has received 3.2 inches of rain.
So, what Canadian County and much of central Oklahoma have faced is, in essence, a two-year drought made up of two separate drought periods: October 2010 to October 2011, and May through September of this year, said Gary McManus of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.
McManus said an additional factor making the situation worse has been above-average heat.
“That is both the extreme heat during the summers, but also the above-normal temperatures throughout most months outside of summer,” he said.
“The heat leads to more evaporation, and it also leads to a longer growing season. Both of those factors increase the water stress on our soils and reservoirs.”
Across the state
Going by the May 1 drought starting point, almost the entire state is fairly dry, with deficits from three to six inches in parts of the Panhandle, northeastern and southern Oklahoma. Deficits are nine to 12 inches across northern Oklahoma.
“Keep in mind that a three- to six-inch deficit in the Panhandle is probably just about equal to a larger deficit in other areas of the state that normally receive more rainfall,” McManus said.
The Oklahoma Mesonet's soil moisture sensors show there has been some recovery in much of the state's topsoil, especially with this last rainfall event in central Oklahoma, he said.
However, in looking at the statistics down to the 10-inch depth, it really starts to dry out in northern Oklahoma, scattered areas in the Panhandle and in southern parts of the state.
“Go down to the two-foot depth, and the soils are mostly bone dry except for small parts of the state,” McManus said.
The U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday showed much of northern Oklahoma and portions of the Panhandle and southwest Oklahoma remains in the exceptional drought category.
In Oklahoma, the word “varies” usually applies to weather conditions, planting conditions, farming and ranching operations and more.
For example, in agriculture today, it is not uncommon for producers to have an off-farm income. That is the case with the 50-year-old Harman.
After college in the mid-1980s, Harman returned to the family farm. That was his full-time job until 1992, when he went to work for the El Reno Fire Department because, he said, “I needed more income than what the farm would provide.”
Still, Harman plants several hundred acres of wheat and also grows a couple of other crops each year.
And when he talks about current conditions, his focus isn't just on his needs but those of other agriculture producers. Some in his area “dusted in” their wheat, which basically means a farmer plants it in dry ground and hopes for rain. Harman said what he's seen of that wheat is looking good, and he's happy for those farmers.
But he also knows that while he raises wheat primarily for grain production, others base their operation on a combination of wheat and cattle. If they can get the wheat pasture, it will provide forage, but many of those producers are still left with little to no water in ponds.
So when Harman talks of future needs, he broadens his comments.
“In the long term, we need to be hoping or praying for some good soaking rains to get that subsoil moisture built up and also get some pond water,” he said.