Archive for Thursday, June 24, 2004

Most of western Kansas wheat crop damaged

June 24, 2004

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— On a field under one irrigated crop circle near Tribune, the thick wheat was chest-high and beautiful.

But Greeley County farmer Alan Peter said that after a close inspection, an insurance adjuster found few, if any, heads of grain on the plants. The adjuster estimated the freeze-damaged field would yield less than one bushel if harvested.

"The hits just keep coming," Peter said. "That freeze really did a number on the wheat."

Much of extreme western Kansas has been plagued by five years of drought, followed by late freezes this spring. Now a string of thunderstorms is delaying harvest of what wheat still remains.

Fields thick with wheat that once would have brought 30 to 50 bushels per acre will now be lucky to get 3 to 12 bushels per acre, Peter said.

"It is very frustrating," he said. "We had some very good looking wheat."

All but maybe 20 or 30 percent of the region's wheat crop has been abandoned, he said.

"There is going to be some (to cut), but not nearly enough as our community needed," Peter said.

At the Farmco Inc. grain elevator in Tribune, manager Joe Horton was even more pessimistic about the outlook for this wheat crop. Based on what local farmers are telling him, he expects just 10 to 15 percent of a normal harvest.

The harvest has been "financially devastating" for the elevator, Horton said.

"That is where our income comes from -- from harvest," he said. "We had some pretty short harvests for the last five years. ... Last year we had a good wheat harvest, but not a good fall harvest."

Asked how the elevator was coping with another anticipated short harvest, Horton said only, "It is not" -- declining to further elaborate.

Farmco has so far cut jobs through attrition.

Farmers in the eastern edge of Greeley County had just started cutting early last week before the area was hit with 7 to 9 inches of rain -- effectively shutting down harvest, he said.

"Rain during harvest always degrades the quality, but we don't know what we had to begin with," Horton said. "We hadn't been cutting enough to get a feel for harvest."

It will be the end of the week, if it doesn't rain again, before harvest resumes in the area, he said.

"As dry as it has been, we will take the rain anytime," Peter said.

Heavy rains have delayed harvest across much of Kansas this past week.

Harvest progress estimates from the Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service on Monday estimated that 40 percent has been cut statewide.

Around the state, cutting has been haphazard between passing storms.

The daily wheat harvest bulletin from state harvest offices Wednesday reported harvest was 90 percent finished around Caldwell and Great Bend, and 85 percent done around Wellington. Kingman was about 75 percent cut.

Decatur County around Oberlin expected cutting to be in full swing Wednesday and complete by the weekend. It was halfway finished in the Phillipsburg area in Ellis County.

Quality varied greatly.

Among the few places reporting test weights Wednesday was Caldwell, where test weights were 55 pounds per bushel. Great Bend had test weights of 58 to 59 pounds per bushel and Lyons was reporting 56 to 57 pounds per bushel.

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