The winter wheat harvest has gotten off to a soggy start in Kansas.
A few spots in south-central and southeast Kansas had very limited harvest activity last week, including as far north as Salina in central Kansas where at least one farmer was cutting wheat, said Aaron Harries, marketing director for the industry group Kansas Wheat.
"It's ready, but I don't know of any harvest going on anywhere today," Harries said Monday.
That is because heavy rains across much of the state in recent days have brought the fledgling harvest to a screeching halt.
About 2 percent had been harvested in Kansas as of Sunday, the National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday. That is about the same amount of wheat that had been cut at this time a year ago, another harvest plagued by untimely rains. But harvest activity is lagging behind the 18 percent that would be normal for this time.
The agency also reported that 20 percent of the wheat in the state was now mature, a figure behind both the 26 percent at this time a year ago and well behind the 40 percent average.
Scott Van Allen is among the handful of Kansas growers to who started cutting his acres last week. He got three good harvest days before a storm system brought 3 inches of rain to his farm near Clearwater in south-central Kansas. He has cut 500 acres and has nearly 2,000 more acres to go.
He credits the plentiful rain in May for making this an expected average, if not slightly better than average crop this year on his farm. He has been getting what he calls "respectable" yields of between 30 and 49 bushels of wheat per acre out of the first fields he has cut.
His test weights have been ranging from 59 to 63 pounds per bushel. The industry threshold for top-quality wheat is 60 pounds per bushel.
Around the south-central Kansas town of Kiowa, usually among the first places in the state to cut wheat each year, about seven or eight farmers were able to cut three days last week before the rains came, said Brett Courson, assistant manager at OK Co-op Grain. It will be another day or so before the combines will be able to get back into the fields.
Those early loads to the grain elevator in Kiowa are already showing that wheat crops that were planted late last fall benefited the most from the May rains that eased drought conditions, and were producing better than earlier planted wheat. Farmers bringing grain coming into the elevator in Kiowa have reported yields from the upper 30 bushels per acre to as low as 5 and 10 bushels per acre, he said. Test weights have been running between 52 and 61 pounds per bushel.
While the May rains helped salvage the parched crop just as the heads were filling out, the rains now at harvest time are hurting wheat quality. Every time it rains on ripened grain, the test weight goes down. Wet plants are also more susceptible to diseases, and the grain in the plant's heads can even sprout if it stays wet long enough. Too much rain also spurs weed growth.
"It is going to be muddy now," Van Allen said. "Even after all that rain we had in May the ground was nice and hard and dry in the harvest fields when we were cutting last week. But it won't be that way this time. We will be in the mud, it will be a struggle."
It is more expensive to harvest in muddy fields because the combines use more fuel as they work harder to pull themselves through the mud, he said. Grain trucks and combines alike can get mired in the mud.
"It is a challenge, but it is not one we haven't had in the past," Van Allen said. "We always seem to manage."
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