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Business

Early wheat harvest grim

More than one-third of Kansas crop poor to very poor

June 19, 2007

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— Sodden wheat lies flat in fields across southern Kansas. Insurance companies are writing off acreage as total losses. Test weights for the few truckloads of grain straggling into area elevators are awful. And it is still sprinkling.

The start of the 2007 Kansas wheat harvest will long be remembered for its shattered prospects. After seven years of drought, the wet winter and even wetter spring had nourished a crop that once promised a bin-busting harvest.

But that was before the Easter weekend freeze, before the disease pressure, before the insect infestations and the heavy rains. Before the floods.

"Everything combined has really challenged this year's crop - especially in southern Kansas," said Dusti Fritz, chief executive officer for Kansas Wheat, a venture of the Kansas Wheat Commission and the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers.

The government's outlook is equally grim. Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that 37 percent of the wheat crop was in poor to very poor condition. About 29 percent was rated in fair condition, 25 percent was in good condition and only 9 percent rated as excellent.

At the Anthony Farmers Co-op, manager Dan Cashier has watched glumly as insurance companies released field after field - farmers wouldn't even have to cut them. He said most wheat around Anthony has been abandoned, and custom cutters have moved on in search of other work.

"I wish I could give you a happier scenario, but it is not there," Cashier said.

He blamed disease and freeze for the crop's problems in his area this year. Wheat samples brought in to the Anthony elevator have been averaging about 50 pounds per bushel - far below the 60 pounds per bushel needed for No. 1 graded wheat. And yields have been running anywhere from zero to 20 bushels per acre.

He expected the harvest to resume in a couple of days, if it ever stopped raining.

"We probably got in 5 percent of the crop, but it might be all we get in if it keeps raining," Cashier said.

On Monday, KASS reported just 2 percent of wheat fields in Kansas have been harvested. By this time last year, about 48 percent had been cut, while the average for this late into harvest is about 19 percent. But this year, persistent, sporadic rains have stalled the start of harvest.

"We are not hearing of a lot of activity yet. We are finding that moisture levels are still quite high," Fritz said. "When it does dry out, we are going to be harvesting in full swing from every corner of the state at the same time."

Kansas is not alone in its late harvest start. In Oklahoma, about 41 percent of the crop has been harvested - far short of the 92 percent that would have been normal for this date. In Texas, about 31 percent has been harvested, compared with the 63 percent that was in the bin by this time last season, the National Agricultural Statistics Service said Monday.

But there is a bright side for farmers.

While the untimely rains at harvest time have wreaked havoc on the Kansas wheat crop, the moisture has helped spring-planted crops thrive.

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