HEALY — Kansas Agriculture Secretary Adrian Polansky said Friday the state's wheat harvest was "mediocre," with more acres abandoned than forecasts have predicted.
Polansky and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius were in west-central Kansas for their annual farm visit.
The pair visited the Lane County farm of Vance and Louise Ehmke, who grow 3,000 acres of wheat, rye and triticale mostly for seed production.
"Clearly, this is not great news for Kansas," Sebelius said after riding a combine with a New Zealand custom harvester who was cutting a wheat field for the Ehmkes. Many farmers are seeing lower test weights and yields are down, she said.
The governor said that while Kansas may not be looking at optimum conditions, the state is still doing better than southern neighbors Texas and Oklahoma.
Overall, Polansky expects the state to harvest near government projections because yields in eastern Kansas were coming in better than expected.
But projections for western Kansas, where drought has been lingering in places since 2000, wheat harvest remains grim.
"It is another in a string of bummer harvests," Vance Ehmke said.
Yields on the Ehmke farm are running around 35 bushels per acre, but to get those kinds of yields in a drought cycle, he has reverted to old farming practices like fallowing ground in years between wheat crops to preserve moisture.
Even so, his yields are 75 percent of normal.
"There is a significant abandonment of acreage in Lane County and Kansas," he said.
Gary Friesen, manager of the Scott City Co-op elevator, said harvest in Scott and Wichita counties started last week.
Farmers in the southern parts are getting yields of 18 to 25 bushels per acre, while those farther north are getting 30 to 35 bushels per acre, he said.
The elevator has been downsizing its operations in the last three years amid the drought, and has cut seven to eight full-time jobs during that time, he said.
One of the more innovative crops being grown on the Ehmke farm is triticale, a cross between rye and wheat, grown under contract for Seaboard Foods.
About 10 farmers in Scott City and the Leoti area are now growing it as a feed crop for pigs, said Matt Johnson, director of feed ingredient procurement for Seaboard.
The company is looking at triticale as a feeding option because of the increased demand for corn and sorghum from the livestock sector and the ethanol industry, and triticale's more modest water requirements compared to other crops, he said.
Elsewhere in the county, harvest activity was slower than usual for this late into harvest.
Eugene Boone was at the Dighton elevator Friday to handle some paperwork from the harvest.
"Drought, freeze damage and hail took care of most of our crop," Boone said, adding he harvested about one third of his usual crop.
He said some fields yielding a half-bushel of wheat per acre were too poor even to cut, and his best fields brought in 25 bushels an acre.
"Crop insurance keeps us going," he said.
"It may not pay all of your bills, but it pays a lot of them."