By Amy Bickel, The Hutchinson News
The east coast may be flooding, but here in Ness County, farmer Neal Delaney admits there's never enough rain.
Those folks have gotten more rain in a matter of days than the 19 inches he averages in an entire year.
"It doesn't seem fair, but that is the way it goes," he said as he drove a combine through a bushy field of milo north of Bazine. "We live out here from one rain to the next."
Farmers are always anticipating the next bout of moisture. But sometimes, despite the High Plains' semiarid terrain, Mother Nature will give farmers a break. After suffering through a multiyear drought, this year's dryland milo harvest is one of Delaney's best.
Under the blue sky, Delaney's redheaded crop is grain heavy. It's heavy enough, in fact, that the 69-year-old farmer wants to get it out of the field before it falls over any more than it already has - which would mean lost bushels. Late spring and early summer rains caused the milo to grow fast, and the stalks are having a hard time holding it upright.
Delaney noted the field he was cutting could wind up averaging somewhere between 100 and 120 bushels an acre.
That's better than last year, he said - which wasn't a bad season. And it is definitely better than the string of years before that - when drought hit, along with an early freeze that caused Delaney and his family to cut their milo for silage.
He's not the only one reaping a bountiful fall crop.
"Everyone that has milo and even dryland corn - people are really satisfied with their yields," he told The Hutchinson News.
Drought has plagued southwest Kansas for multiple years. Kansas farmers even began the past spring in dry conditions - dry enough that by April, some were preparing to write off the wheat crop as another drought-stricken loss.
Late-season rains helped save the wheat. The abundance of moisture also was enough to bolster spring-planted crops like corn and milo, said Colby Ganz, vice president at D.E. Bondurant Grain based in Ness City.
Harvest is just getting started, Ganz said. After years of binning small quantities, all indications reflect a bumper harvest.
"This year, it's all looking good," Ganz said as he stood in the elevator's offices, but added, "We are keeping our fingers crossed."
Kansas farmers are projected to harvest 238 million bushels of grain sorghum - up 19 percent from last year thanks to a better crop and more acres planted, according to the Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service.
Statewide, the agency estimates the average yield for milo at 82 bushels an acre - up 8 bushels from 2014.
The big crop is evident around Dodge City, where, it seems, a large patchwork of milo fields dot the landscape.
Jerald Kemmerer, general manager of Dodge City-based Pride Ag Resources, said better prices at planting, along with the fact milo uses less water than corn, caused farmers to increase their acres this year.
In his territory, irrigated corn harvest is about half complete. Milo is just getting started, however, because it hasn't dried down enough.
Milo needs a good freeze or more heat units to get it dried down for the combine, Kemmerer said.
His elevators are bracing for a good harvest.
"I think the milo yields are better than average," he said, adding he would not be surprised if farmers "saw some phenomenal yields."
"Last year was good," he added. "This will be a lot better."
Not only did farmers catch moisture, they didn't have many triple-digit days this summer as some years.
"This summer, we really got some nice weather to go with the moisture."
But more is needed. Farmers were recently busy planting wheat - sowing it in the dry earth in anticipation that rain would soon fall.
Kemmerer said a nice light rain was falling in Dodge City recently. It might not be good for those trying to harvest, but it is perfect for the newly planted wheat crop.
"Especially when you've been through as much drought as we have been in southwest Kansas - you never turn down moisture," he said. "It is not an opportune time for those in the middle of fall harvest, but it is for those planting wheat."
On this fall-lit evening, Delaney talked about his love of farming.
He is a third-generation Ness County farmer. His grandfather started the farm here in 1913.
Delaney said he couldn't wait for the day he graduated from high school and could come back to the farm.
And every day since, he has woken up and loved his profession.
"It was all I wanted to do," he said, adding there have been plenty of tough years - from drought, to low prices to the 1980s farm crisis. "The mid-1980s were terrible, but I survived.
"It can be a hard life," he said. "It ain't an 8 to 5 job. It's a 5 to 9 job."
But not that it matters to Delaney, who was enjoying this moment in time harvesting with his family. On this day, son Jared was driving a semi back and forth from the field near Bazine to the Ganzes' elevator in Ness City. Delaney's wife, Dianne, was driving the tractor and grain cart - going back and forth from the combine to the semi-truck.
Jared's wife, Stephanie, also helps with harvest, taking turns with Dianne driving the tractor and grain cart. And the couple has daughter and son-in-law in Derby and several grandchildren.
With the abundance of grain, the process was fast-paced. It didn't take long to fill up the combine - couple rounds filled it to the brim. It was tough for Jared to keep up - his mother filling a second truck with grain before Jared could make the 12-mile trip back from the elevator.
That's OK, said Delaney, noting there have been a few years when, "I've cut all day and not filled a truck."
This year, however, is unique.
"You just get lucky once in a while," he said with a grin, later adding, "There's a lot more to it today than there was when I put in my first milo crop in 1972."