Wheat harvest begins with few bright spots





Hit hard by drought and spring freezes, southwest Kansas' winter wheat crop has suffered this year, but there are some bright spots depending on where producers are in the region.

Larry Kepley, who farms outside of Ulysses, just started cutting wheat Monday afternoon. The field cutting that was done Monday tested at 8.5 percent moisture with a test weight of 56. Yield estimate is probably eight to 10 bushels, he said. Kepley said he's not sure of the protein levels yet.

"We're probably going to have 500 acres left to harvest, about half of what we planted last fall," Kepley said, adding he usually plants 900 to 1,000 acres of wheat.

Normally, he would expect to get 30 to 40 bushels per acre on dryland acreage and 40 to 80 bushels on irrigated land. Normal weight would be 56 to 58 pounds per bushel.

"We have fields that were completely killed with the drought and freeze, and we have yields that have been appraised at between six and 10 bushels," he said.

Quite a bit of wheat in Grant County was harvested for forage, with the remainder frozen out, or "droughted out," Kepley said.

Kepley, who is 74, said his parents bought the land he farms on in 1948, and except for a stint teaching and working for the extension service, he's been back on the farm for 40 years.

Scott City Co-op Association General Manager Gary Friesen said harvest began there Friday.

"It feels like we're going to be right in the thick of things in the next few days," Friesen said Monday. "In terms of quality, we're pleasantly surprised."

Friesen said he's seen 58- to 60-pound tests weights. He hasn't heard anyone talk about yields and doesn't know about protein levels yet. The wheat has been dry so far, in the 11 to 11.5 percent moisture range.

Estimates were revised downward, with drought and below-average rainfall being the major factors, along with untimely spring freezes. But hope remains.

"We're optimistic. We're hoping it will turn out a little bit better," than predicted, Friesen said.

Most of what is grown in this region is hard red winter wheat, which is used for flour and bread products.

"Winter wheats are very hardy. We plant those in the fall. They go dormant in the wintertime, then, of course, ... late in the spring or early summer," harvest starts, Friesen said.

Bill Maskus, grain division manager of Ag Pride in Dodge City, which has locations in Cimarron, Montezuma and Ingalls, said most cutting is occurring around the Dodge City area right now. Cimarron, Montezuma and Ingalls haven't taken much. Kalvesta had 95,000 bushels through Sunday, he said.

"But as far as giving anything on the others, they've just started, so there's not much to report there," Maskus said.

Test weights have been 59 at Ag Pride, and as expected, moisture percentage has been dry. No one has reported anything on bushels per acre yet.

How this year's crop turns out won't be known until "we're almost done because of how poor the crop is," Maskus said.

"Unfortunately, the last two years (have) been drought years, and we're expecting less than those two years. We're hoping for 50 percent of a normal crop before harvest even starts," Maskus said.

A normal crop for Ag Pride's 15 locations throughout southwest Kansas is 6.4 million bushels.

John Holman, cropping systems agronomist with Kansas State University Southwest Research Extension Center in Garden City, said neither dryland nor irrigated crops are going to be spared this year.

Around Pratt, he said, there are still respectable yields. He's heard reports of 50 bushel yields, but also a lot of 20 to 40 bushel yields in that area.

West of U.S. Highway 281, and especially west of Highway 183, "it just gets worse as you go west," Holman said.

The crop in eastern Colorado and pasture conditions are "extremely poor," he said.

"That matches up with what the U.S. Drought Monitor shows. That dividing line between 281 and 183, west of there the crop there has suffered. You're going to have fields that have been adjusted out to be zero, especially Garden City west of (U.S.) 83, it gets particularly bad," Holman said.

"I think from what I've been hearing from different people, test weight in western Kansas and eastern Colorado is going to be low this year," Holman said.

But cutting has just started, so "only time will tell. Combines are running pretty good around south-central Kansas, and they've started to cut around Dodge City pretty heavy," he said.

With temperatures expected in the 100-degree range, Holman said by the end of this week or early next week combines should be running all around Garden City. However, a certain number of fields likely won't be harvested.

Kansas Wheat Commission Chief Executive Officer Justin Gilpin, Manhattan, said when you hear crop adjustors have adjusted a field to zero yield, it basically means that field won't be harvested. That is referred to in data and statistics as an abandoned field, he said.

"I think we're going to see a higher percentage of abandonment" than has been seen in the past decade for western Kansas, Gilpin said.

Joe Beery, who handles crop insurance for Keller-Leopold's Cimarron office, said some fields have been appraised and "just been destroyed" because there wasn't enough to harvest. Others were bad, but not so bad they won't be harvested, he said.

"The further west you go, like Syracuse and Elkhart, there probably won't be a lot of fields harvested," Beery said.

The central corridor is where average and some above-average yields may be found this year, Gilpin said, adding this would include Wichita to Salina and up through Beloit. Some timely rains helped the crop finish out, Gilpin said.

"Whereas in western Kansas, southwest, west-central and around northwest, (this is) one of the poorest years that we've had as far as yield estimates and production, unfortunately," he said.

"For Kansas to have a good wheat crop overall, Kansas needs to have a good wheat crop in southwest Kansas. In a good year, the southwest Kansas district can produce more wheat than the state of California will," he added.

Kansas farmers also will be watching seed availability due to the crop's shortfall this year.

"Farmers may have to go a bit further to find seed or begin working with local seed producers or certified seed dealers in their area (to make) arrangements for planting this fall," Gilpin said.

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