Wheat crop dismal in west, bountiful elsewhere

6/26/2013

WICHITA (AP) — Wheat grower Randy Fritzemeier slowly drove his combine Tuesday over thick stands of winter wheat and counted himself a lot more fortunate than his neighbors out in far western Kansas where a lingering drought has decimated crops.

WICHITA (AP) — Wheat grower Randy Fritzemeier slowly drove his combine Tuesday over thick stands of winter wheat and counted himself a lot more fortunate than his neighbors out in far western Kansas where a lingering drought has decimated crops.

But here on his Stafford farm, located just 30 miles west of Hutchinson in central Kansas, this season's crop is better than average, he said in a telephone interview from the cab of his combine. He began cutting his 1,300 acres of winter wheat last Friday afternoon and his test weights have been running between 60 and 64 pounds per bushel — far better than the 60-pound benchmark for top quality wheat.

When asked about what kind of yields he was getting, Fritzemeier hesitated.

"I almost hate to say because it is so good," he replied. "I am afraid it might make the market drop."

Prodded for a number, he disclosed he has been getting between 50 and 60 bushels an acre. On an average year, he usually brings in 40 bushels an acre.

Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that 8 percent of the state's winter wheat crop has been cut.

The agency said 45 percent of the Kansas wheat crop was in poor to very poor condition. The trade group Kansas Wheat says harvest activity has spread as far north as Hays and as far west as Scott City. Early indications are that the harvest has been coming in as good — and as bad — as had been anticipated, depending on where the rain had fallen.

Just 160 miles west of Fritzemeier's central Kansas farm, grower Gary Millershaski was getting ready Tuesday to begin cutting for the first time this season what he had left of the 2,800 acres of winter wheat he had planted near Lakin in drought-stricken southwest Kansas. His wheat crop is so poor he has already abandoned 360 acres of it and has low expectations on yields for what was left.

"I am going to call myself lucky if I can end up with a 15 to 20 bushel (per acre) average," Millershaski said. "I am not helping the state's average any at all."

But he still said he felt fortunate because farmers further west and south of him were abandoning between 30 and 40 percent of their fields, or worse.

Subsoil moisture levels are short to very short across 52 percent of the Kansas, but in arid southwest Kansas 96 percent of the land falls into that category, according to the Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service.

In a typical season, Millershaski has three combines of his own plus a couple of custom harvesters cutting his fields.

"This year, due to the poor performance of the crop, we are going to cut every acre ourselves and hopefully that will save me between $5 and $7 an acre," he said. "I don't know if it will because it still costs you. It costs to go across the ground whether you own the machine or you pay somebody to do it."

For custom harvesters like Tracy Zeorian of Manley, Neb., the widespread drought has meant far fewer acres to cut. She and her husband are now cutting in Oklahoma and expect to move into Kansas by the end of the week. The nation's custom cutters, who follow the ripening crops from Texas to the Northern Plains each year, have already moved into the Kiowa area in south-central Kansas and are beginning to move into central Kansas now, she said.

"Probably within the next week or two you could quite possibly see a lot of harvesters just sitting," Zeorian said. "I know I have heard some say they are thinking even about going back home for a while until that northern route is ready. It is a tough year for a harvester."

comments powered by Disqus
I commented on a story, but my comments aren't showing up. Why?
We provide a community forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on the news of the day.
Passionate views, pointed criticism and critical thinking are welcome. We expect civil dialogue.
Name-calling, crude language and personal abuse are not welcome.
Moderators will monitor comments with an eye toward maintaining a high level of civility in this forum.

If you don't see your comment, perhaps you ...
... called someone an idiot, a racist, a moron, etc. Name-calling or profanity (to include veiled profanity) will not be tolerated.
... rambled, failed to stay on topic or exhibited troll-like behavior intended to hijack the discussion at hand.
... included an e-mail address or phone number, pretended to be someone you aren't or offered a comment that makes no sense.
... accused someone of a crime or assigned guilt or punishment to someone suspected of a crime.
... made a comment in really poor taste.

MULTIMEDIA