By Amy Bickel, The Hutchinson News
ABBYVILLE, Kan. (AP) — With the Kansas wheat harvest in south-central Kansas just stubble, Craig Bennett now just has to figure out what to do with it all.
The elevators at Abbyville are nearly full and the beginning of fall harvest is less than 50 days away.
"What to do with the fall crops - that's the topic of conversation," Bennett, general manager at Farmers Co-op Grain, said after weighing a truck on the elevator scales. His crew was shipping out the little wheat that farmers have sold to a Hutchinson terminal, he said.
Bennett is not alone in handling the glut of grain. Evidence of the big crop can be seen across Kansas as golden mountains outside several grain elevators continue to grow, The Hutchinson News reports.
On Tuesday, officials gave a glimpse of just how big the Kansas wheat crop could be, forecasting farmers to harvest 454 million bushels, up 41 percent from last year's crop.
The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service also reported the statewide average yield is forecast at 56 bushels per acre, up 19 bushels from last year. If realized, this would be a new record yield.
The agency's July forecast is up considerably from June's estimation of 395 million bushels of wheat. But for Kansas' grain elevator managers, it's not a surprise.
"It is a harvest beyond belief," said Tom Tunnell, president of the Kansas Grain and Feed Association, in which many of the state's grain elevators are members. "It's unbelievable."
Nearing the Century Mark
There are some fields you can tell are going to be high-yielding.
But never, said Reno County farmer James Schlickau, has he experienced such a sight in every single one of his fields.
Even with the rain delays, which caused him to cut wheat over 19 days instead of seven or eight, his yields were exceptional, he said.
"We cut 77 bushels (average) for the whole farm," said Schlickau, who is also a county commissioner. "That's a record."
He was just shy of capturing the triple-digit mark for yields. But he did record his highest yield ever: 98.3 bushels an acre on an entire field. The half-circle had been under irrigation in the past, but this year, with frequent rains, Schlickau never turned on the irrigation system.
Moreover, when it came time to cut it, he didn't harvest it all at once.
"Some of the field was so saturated that the wheat was lying flat," he said, adding he cut everything else and went back several days later to cut the last seven acres.
He said he told his wife, Charlene, that if he could have gotten all the wheat off the ground with the header, "it would have been in excess of 100 bushels an acre."
Still, he said, "it is pretty darn close."
The weather cooperated to create the monster crop. March started out dry, but as the spring continued, rains began to fall. Cool temperatures also bolstered the crop during filling - creating the widespread bin buster.
High yields seem to be the average across Reno County and many areas of Kansas, said Schlickau.
"I haven't heard anyone say they are really disappointed," said Schlickau. "If that is the case, it has to be an isolated problem."
Elevators Reporting Good Yields
"I've heard anywhere from 20 to 100," said Lee Burgess, the grain department manager for Central Prairie Co-op, which has a location in Nickerson. "I''m guessing we'll average around the 60-bushel-an-acre mark."
Erik Lange, with Mid-Kansas Cooperative, said an area around Benton in Butler County saw yields of 30 bushels an acre - farmers there couldn't catch a rain on their growing wheat. But in other areas, including Reno and McPherson counties, farmers were reporting to the cooperative yields from 60 to 80 bushels an acre.
Around Dodge City, Pride Ag Resources General Manager Jerald Kemmerer said he has heard about yields as high as 106 bushels an acre. Rain did prolong harvest and cut down high test weights from well above the benchmark of 60 pounds a bushel to 54 or 56 pounds a bushel.
No matter, it is still probably the best wheat crop the cooperative has binned in 15 to 18 years - 30 or 40 percent above the previous record, he said, adding harvest is about 80 percent complete in his trade territory.
"You'd think some of it would get weedy, but the straw is so thick," he said.
Even the lodged wheat is still doing well.
"They are picking wheat off the ground that is still making in the 80s," Kemmerer said. "It's just phenomenal."
Where to Put All That Wheat
But where to put it all is the looming question.
While Kemmerer's cooperative didn't have to dump on the ground, he said he knew of several cooperatives putting wheat on the ground. He's heard of a few even having to close up locations because they are so full.
So full, in fact, that Garden City Co-op has dumped grain on the ground at some of its locations - including a ground pile at the elevator near the ghost town of Amy in Lane County.
But with prices low and the farm economy struggling for the second year in a row, General Manager John McClelland said he is concerned about how government loan programs could affect storage.
Low prices are causing farmers to consider the government's commodity marketing loan program, which is available no matter the market but is often taken advantage of when commodities plunge, according to the Farm Service Agency.
Farmers can receive a nine-month, low-interest loan using their wheat as collateral, according to the Farm Service Agency. Farmers receive funds based on the loan rate. In times of low prices, it gives farmers cash for cutting bills and other needs, while allowing them to hold on to their wheat for better prices.
Farmers can either repay the loan or forfeit their wheat to the Commodity Credit Corporation, the agency states. But the grain must stay under storage with the cooperative until the farmer repays the loan in some way.
That could create potential logjams, said McClelland, as farmers hold on to their wheat hoping for better prices - taking storage away from the upcoming fall harvest. He already has had a few farmers ask for warehouse receipts - which are needed to get the government loan. As harvest wraps up, he said he could see more asking for receipts.
There already have been about a dozen loans taken out at the Reno County Farm Service Agency - increased activity not seen in years.
Ted Schultz, chief operating officer of Team Marketing Alliance - the grain division for four south-central Kansas elevators, including Central Prairie and MKC - said he has only had a handful of farmers ask for warehouse receipts so far.
"It is really a big deal when you have big crops like this - especially when it is all over the state," said Schultz, adding, if realized, it would make fall harvest even more challenging.
Most likely, there will be milo piles on the ground this year, as well, said McClelland, adding, as always, Kansas elevators will make it all work.
Tunnell, a veteran in the industry, said elevators have handled the masses before. Moreover, Kansas has added a large percentage of storage in the past five to 10 years and more new construction is occurring statewide.
Out his window at Abbyville's cooperative, Bennett can watch workers build a new 209,000-bushel bin - which should be online in time for fall harvest, he said. But that might not be enough extra space, he said, adding even the dryland corn has bumper potential.
Most likely, they will have to fill their covered flat storage area with wheat as fall harvest nears, Bennett said. For now, he and his crews continue to prepare, moving out what grain they can as a few farmers continue to finish up harvest, cutting the mud holes that remain.
As for Schlickau, the frequent rains are timely enough now to boost his fall harvest prospects. Farmers need it, he said of the low prices.
"Margins are razor-sharp," he said, adding that contracting a portion of his wheat will help.
Still, he said, farmers are thankful for the rain and the good harvest.
"I think we all feel fortunate it is a good year," he said. "We are looking forward to fall, too. It's shaping up to be a good fall harvest."