Mud mired the start of the Kansas wheat tour Tuesday as some participants donned boots and plastic pants to get around soggy wheat fields.
"Last year, it was quite dusty and this year it was nice to be muddy," said Dana Hoffman, member programs director for the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers.
The wet start to the annual three-day trek through wheat fields across Kansas, southern Nebraska, eastern Colorado and northern Oklahoma was a welcome change after back-to-back drought years.
Hoffman's group left Manhattan to travel through southern Nebraska and then back down to Kansas through Almena on Tuesday. But other groups found far drier conditions on their routes.
KAWG executive vice president Brett Myers and his group took a route that wound west from Manhattan down Highway 70 to Salina and Highway 24 to Colby. He even got sprinkled on by a little rain early in the morning.
As his group passed Rooks County, conditions in the wheat fields started getting noticeably drier.
"As far as the drought being over, it is by no means over," Myers said. "But as far as enough moisture to make the wheat look good, we have enough moisture out here at this moment to do that ... as we get out west from Rooks County it wouldn't take much if we don't get timely moisture for (the wheat) to go downhill."
Tour participants travel in more than a dozen cars, each taking a slightly different route. They stop every 20 miles or so to look at individual wheat fields and take measurements devised by Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service to determine wheat condition.
Hoffman said her group has seen yields ranging from 30 to 40 bushels per acre, but there is a wide range of stages.
Some of the wheat was still just five inches tall, others were as high as 15 inches. Weather remains a wild card, especially in northwest Kansas where the wheat is still not out of frost danger.
Myers' group took measurements in the mid 40-bushels-per-acre at the start of their tour, but that dropped to as low as 28 bushels per acre the farther west in Kansas they went.
The wheat is in a lot better shape now than it was during the drought-plagued 2002 crop, Myers said.
"Even though it is drier as we are getting west, we are seeing a lot healthier wheat -- a lot greener wheat for one thing," he said.
On Monday, Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service ranked wheat condition statewide as 4 percent very poor, 12 percent poor, 36 percent fair, 36 percent good and 12 percent excellent. One percent of the crop has already headed.
Tour participants have also noticed a lot of weeds and some nitrogen deficiency in fields -- an indication many farmers are not fertilizing and spraying for weeds as usual after a couple of years of drought, he said.
The tour will resume today from Colby to Wichita before heading Thursday to Kansas City and the Kansas City Board of Trade.