Two rapid-fire snowstorms belted Kansas with more than 2 feet of snow this week. They caused thousands of accidents and all kinds of hardships — but they also produced very broad smiles from some quarters.

That’s because in a place as dry as Kansas has been lately, a blizzard can be a blessing for farmers and ranchers.

Imagine that your job is taking care of some 450 cows and almost half of them have either just given birth or are about to — all out in a pasture that has seen 2 feet of snow fall in less than two weeks.

One thing you need is an old ax, like the one farmer Kirk Sours carries down to a frozen pond. He’s covered in layers of heavy canvas work clothes, with a big gray mustache and cowboy hat to match.

“Keeping the ponds open so they have something to drink. This pond’s in pretty decent shape,” he says. “I’ve got 16 dry ponds on the ranch.”

Snow And No Grass Means Pricey Hay

The drought here, near Tonganoxie, Kan., started last spring and hasn’t let up. Drought had baked the soil here to bone-dry dust.

“Our pastures here, a lot of it, looks dead when the snow’s gone,” Sours says.

So Sours has been forced to buy scarce and very expensive hay. And now, with snow covering what grass there is — and the cows rapidly turning out other little mouths to feed — he’s using much more.

“[I] like to keep a lot of extra hay out, to give them a dry place to lay, during the night,” Sours says. “And especially if they want to lay down and have a baby sometime, they’ve got a nice dry place to do it. It gets expensive, yeah.”

But for all this, Sours is pretty sweet on the snow. That’s because the snowmelt will start to quench these dry pastures. “It makes for a little harder work, but in scope of the drought, man, we’re just almost giddy about having this snow,” he says.

And if you think Sours is happy with the weather, you should call a Kansas wheat farmer out west, where the drought is now entering its third year.

“I was beginning to wonder … if it could rain,” says Scott Van Allen. He hails from Kansas’ Sumner County, which proudly boasts that it’s the “Wheat Capital of the World.”

‘I’d Much Rather Have Mud Than Dust’

The snows brought the first real moisture to Van Allen’s wheat crop since he planted it last fall.

“This was the first time I haven’t minded going out and shoveling my sidewalks off,” Van Allen says. “I had a smile the whole time I was doing it.”

Jim Shroyer, a wheat expert at Kansas State University, says he is asked all the time whether the storms broke the drought. “No!” he answers. “But it sure as heck helps. It’s better than a sharp poke in the eye.”

Shroyer says it’s been so dry for so long that it would take 8 feet of snow to bring soil back to normal in western Kansas — where “normal” is pretty dry. So the snow wasn’t so much a lifesaver for the wheat crop as a stay of execution.

“This wheat crop is going to be going hand to mouth, from this point on,” Shroyer says.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the tires on Sours’ huge four-wheel drive pickup are slipping a little. “Yeah, when you get this truck stuck, you’re stuck,” he says. The snow is melting now, and this ranch is going to get very messy.

“I have learned one thing over the last 35 years of doing this,” Sours says. “That you don’t cuss the mud. I’d much rather have mud than dust.”

And for now, after the snow melts in Kansas, mud it is. Next month? Maybe green.

Frank Morris reports for Harvest Public Media, a public radio reporting project that focuses on agriculture and food production issues.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit

Comments are closed.


Getty Images
October 24, 2016 | NPR · On the inaugural nightly Facebook Live from Trump Tower, the GOP nominee’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said “unequivocally” that Trump will win even as he badly trails Hillary Clinton in polls.

October 24, 2016 | NPR · Consumer Reports has released its Annual Reliability Survey. Lexus and Toyota are the top two, followed by Buick. The company ranks car brands based on a survey of more than a half-million car owners.

Getty Images
October 24, 2016 | NPR · While campaigning in Florida on Monday, the Republican presidential candidate accused the media of counting too many Democrats in their polls. Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Arts & Life

October 24, 2016 | NPR · True authorship of Shakespeare has been debated for centuries. Now, the New Oxford Shakespeare edition will list Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe as co-author on the three Henry VI plays, part one, two and three. NPR’s Robert Siegel talks with Florida State University professor Gary Taylor, one of the general editors of the new volume.

October 24, 2016 | NPR · They finally did it: The producers of The Walking Dead kicked off season seven by ratcheting up the onscreen gore and brutality until it matches what appears in the original comic.

Getty Images
October 24, 2016 | NPR · Comic artist Steve Dillon died this weekend in New York City at the age of 54. He was responsible for some of the most iconic comics of the 1990s, including Hellblazer and Preacher.


Courtesy of the artist
October 24, 2016 | WXPN · The Austin artist’s inventive new EP, Never Understood, was produced by Spoon drummer Jim Eno. Hear two songs.

October 24, 2016 | NPR · The long-running rock band holds a mirror to the hard realities of America right now on American Band. Watch Drive-By Truckers’ emotional performance at the NPR Music office.

Getty Images
October 24, 2016 | NPR · Gone ‘Til November, transcribed from the journal he kept while at Rikers, isn’t particularly revealing, but it offers a chance to stop and take stock of where the rapper has been since.

Get the KRCC iPhone App

The Writer's Almanac