To the average person, the mild winter didn’t mean much beyond providing a break from some outdoor work, such as shoveling snow from driveways. And after a warm spring it’s finally time, according to the calendar, to put on extra sunscreen and spend the days lounging by the pool.
The wheat farmers in Douglas County, however, may be busier than ever this year. They’ve just completed the first day of harvest, a day that, because of the weather, has come three weeks early.
Carl Flory, a farmer southwest of Lawrence, has been working a combine since he was 13 years old. Now 65, Flory says this year’s wheat crop is unique for him.
“We’ve never had this early of (a harvest),” Flory said.
To harvest the wheat, farmers first test the moisture content of the wheat stalk. If it is dry enough, a combine will cut the wheat, separating the stalk and the grain. The farmer then loads the grain and takes it to an elevator, and after the whole crop is harvested, he waits to begin planting until the fall.
With the harvest coming three weeks early, Bill Wood, Douglas County Extension director, said it is likely the farmers will take an extra step this summer: double-cropping. This means the farmers will plant a different type of crop where the wheat used to stand. For many in Douglas County, the crop will be soybeans, which along with corn is the main crop grown here.
“Double-cropping is a little risky because those soybeans aren’t going to have as long to grow ... but this year if we’re done harvesting early, I think there’s going to be a lot of people who say, ‘there’s going to be two more weeks than normal, so I’m going to go ahead and plant some soybeans,’” Wood said.
Flory plans on double-cropping in his fields but first wants to get 15,000 bushels of grain out of the 400 acres of wheat he planted. Flory is hopeful he can do so, but he also doesn’t want to count his bushels before they’re harvested.
“We’re one day away from a hailstorm; anything could happen,” he said.
Wood talked to workers at Baldwin Feed Co. and said the grain elevator has had one truckload of wheat, as well as many sample cuts, brought in as of Monday night. The wheat had a higher moisture content than what the elevator would normally like, but with dry weather Wood thinks farmers who haven’t already begun harvesting will begin in the next day or two.
Lucky for Flory and other wheat farmers in Douglas County, a hailstorm doesn’t seem to be in the near future and neither does any other precipitation for the next two weeks, which is about how long it should take for the wheat in the area to be harvested.
State climatologist Mary Knapp said to expect below-normal precipitation in the Lawrence area for the next 10 to 14 days, and after that, precipitation is equally likely to be above or below normal precipitation rates.
Knapp also said temperatures are expected to be warmer than average, but it doesn’t necessarily mean a repeat of last summer when the heat was far above average.
Wood said it is likely that the county’s corn and soybean crops, which were planted early by most farmers because of the weather, will also see an early harvest.
“As long as the weather cooperates, those crops probably will easily be ready three weeks early in the fall, too,” Wood said.