The yellow roseometer is telling us it’s about that time to load up and head south.
Grandpa always said, “Wheat will die at least seven times before it is harvested”. Therefore, I am going to remain hopeful for the 2017 crop. Concerned…yet hopeful.
I’ve heard this quote often lately with the weather extremes that have been occurring in the wheat belt. So…it must be true to continue to be believed by the wheat community. The wheat in western Kansas and eastern Colorado is on its fourth or fifth death by now.
The mood in this household has been a bit glum since last weekend’s snowstorm (aka Ursa). Oh, it wasn’t the greatest prior to the snow but this just sort of took it to a different level. You would think after 35 years of experiencing these sort of years, it wouldn’t still be a concern. But it is. It’s our livelihood. It’s what we prepare for. It’s what we do and what we count on…we replace the farmer at harvest time.
Did you hear about the blizzard that hit western Kansas and eastern Colorado? It seems the majority of the American public were oblivious to it all – much like the wildfires in March. Unless it is an event on either coast, most people don’t have a clue what’s going on in the central part of the United States. This is unfortunate because this is where their food comes from. Oh…wait…doesn’t our food come from grocery stores? I probably shouldn’t get started on this rant or I’ll just plain forget why I even started this blog in the first place. Just one last thing, though, before I let this alone. Wouldn’t you think the people who are trying so hard to eliminate agriculture would be a bit more supportive of the hand who feeds them? Guess they’ll figure it all out when the grocery store shelves are empty or when the prices for their already affordable food are crazy high.
The Beast is back in the yard. Preparations of the 2017 wheat journey is in progress.
So, why the mood? It started in December when we began hearing the reports about the western Kansas wheat needing a drink – rather badly. In December, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported that much of western Kansas was in a moderate to severe drought (life number one) – just weeks after the entire state was declared drought free for the first time in six years.
I’m going to base a lot of what I know from the Garden City and surrounding areas because that’s what concerns us. Finney County’s annual rainfall average is 19″ – they received 21″ in 2016. Should mean they’re good to go, right? Unfortunately, the time of the year they receive the moisture is where it becomes critical for the wheat crop. The ending months of 2016 were dry. If I’m reading the numbers correctly, the area received a bit more than 3″ of rain in the first quarter of 2017. BUT wheat is a hardy crop! I’ve seen wheat produce a reasonable yield with only 3″ of rain. So, it continued to do what it was supposed to do…grow. Twitter feeds, Facebook posts and news articles told of the parched wheat, the thin stands and dire need for rain.
Then the temperature took a spike. The warmer-than-average temps created growth. Growth that both Jim and I knew was way too early for the time of year it occurred – March. We’ve seen those late-spring freezes all too often in recent years. A whole different concern. And we held our breath (well, not really). Remember…this is our livelihood and whatever happens to the crop, happens to us. What this wheat needed was cooler temps and a drink.
Wheat diseases were also beginning to be discussed (life number two).
Large portions of Kansas DID receive measurable amounts of rainfall the end of March. Rain is a good thing! Early April showed crop conditions were improving, due to the moisture. But the wheat that was growing (or trying to grow) in the drought areas of western Kansas was struggling before the much-needed drink happened. The rains surely helped but would still leave some fields thin and unsure.
And…then it happened…life number three. Late freezes happen fairly regularly in Kansas. The 2017 wheat crop is about two weeks ahead of schedule due to the warm temps. Temperatures during the night of April 26 and into the early hours of April 27 dipped into the upper 20’s/lower 30’s for more than seven hours. The effect of a freeze event on a wheat crop depends on the stage of crop development and field factors. A low spot in a field would/could experience greater harm. Most of the time, after a wheat freeze (sort of like a brain freeze), it takes time (a week to 10 days) to see the extent of damage. If it’s not bad enough to call the insurance claim adjuster, the yields won’t be known until harvest time. I’ve also seen where claim adjusters have zeroed out a field for one farmer but right across the road, we’ve cut 30 bushel wheat. The wheat in western Kansas experienced several consecutive nights of freezing temps – not just one night.
Life number 4. “The snow forecast as of Thursday (April 27) afternoon showed possibilities for western Kansas. There likely would be little accumulation“, said Mary Knapp (assistant state climatologist at the Weather Data Library in Manhattan). This quote was taken from cjonline.com, The Topeka Capital-Journal dated April 27, 2017.
Hmmmm…I’d say that was famous last words, considering the final outcome of that impending snowstorm.
Successful Farming reported on May 1, “U.S. wheat futures surged 5.2 percent ($4.49 per bushel) to their highest in nearly two months on Monday after a weekend snow storm in key production areas raised concerns about severe crop damage, traders said. Wheat notched the biggest gains on Monday morning, as the weather outlook raised more concern for the crop that is already under stress.”
I don’t know exactly how much snow the fields we cut northwest of Garden City received. And I don’t know the current conditions of them, either. Jim has opted to lay low with the phone calls just simply because wheat has seven lives before it’s harvested. No reason to really get concerned about not having a job until we know we don’t have a job, right? Concerned…yet hopeful. All I know is from what I have seen on social media – and via Mark Heil Harvesting. Mark and his crew (Dianne, Tara and Brad) live outside of Ulysses, Kansas which is about 30 miles southwest of the fields we cut. And according to what I’ve seen as far as maps and snow accumulation – both places could have received about the same amount of snow – 20″-30″. Tara told me the snow didn’t fall nicely – it came with high winds (up to 70 mph) and horizontally. So, all of snow/storm pictures are from the Heil’s. Thank you for sharing them with me!
(Photo borrowed from Nicole Small, also known as Tales of a Kansas Farm Mom. Thanks, Nicole!!)
When news of the aftermath of the storm uses words like “flat to the ground”, “nothing left”, “damaged”, “killed”, “2017 wheat acres lost”, “wait and see”, etc., you tend to think of nothing but the worst. From what I understand, the possibility exists for the wheat to stand back up after having up to two feet of heavy, wet snow on top of it. However, if the stems are broken or sharply kinked, the grain cannot develop. And if it does stand back up, will there be anything in the heads? Remember…there is also the concern of freeze damage prior to the big snowstorm.
Now, what will happen with the 2017 wheat? It’s a wait and see situation.
If it doesn’t stand back up and remains in a lodged (flat to the ground) state, will the ground dry? Will there be rot? What diseases will show up? Will insurance agents zero it out? And the biggest question for the harvesters…will we get to cut it?
Lots of questions with unknown answers – for a while. I do know if the crop is lost, so is our job. The harvester, much like the farmer, has one time to receive a paycheck when it comes to crops. And we anticipate that paycheck all year-long. Insurance will help the farmer but it won’t help the harvester. Harvesters do not have insurance for a lost crop. Our paycheck is gone when the crop is no longer. And all we can do is have faith that another job will come along to help ease the pain of losing those acres. We also know farmers don’t raise a crop hoping to recoup expenses in the form of an insurance check.
So, knowing all of what has occurred in western Kansas, maybe now a few will have a better understanding of why this is a concern to us. We’ll still get the Beast ready to head south because that’s what we do…it’s what we have to do. We’ll remain hopeful there’s wheat to cut this summer and have faith that God will help us every step of the way…because He will. He knows the plan – we do not.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11
Stick with us for the journey as it unfolds to see what the outcome of the 2017 wheat crop will be. The western Kansas wheat has about three lives left…
A sight that is usually seen in January.
Snow drifts before they started melting (Heil Harvesting).
Snow-covered lilac bushes near the Heil home.
Measuring a non-drifted part of the Heil’s back yard.
“Snow blocks Highway 50 in Lakin, Kansas on Sunday (April 30). (Gary Millershaski)
There are a lot of oil and gas wells near the Heil Harvesting headquarters that HAVE to be checked. This is the gravel county road past their house. It is assumed this was how one of the gas companies was getting to their wells.
Same lilac bushes (previous photo) after the snow melted.
Water, mud and more water!
Photo taken 05/06/17 of a dryland wheatfield.
This had been the best looking wheat field in the area of the Heil Harvesting headquarters. It looked really good, really even stand (unlike the typical dryland fields, which did not have an even stand). This field has lots of plants that are kinked near the base and trying to stand. (photo taken 05/06/17)
A field of triticale attempting to straighten up – picture taken 05/06/17.
Mark Heil of Mark Heil Harvesting showing us how tall the triticale would be if it were standing up like it was ten days ago.
Typical dryland wheat field as of 05/06/17…note it’s headed out.
05/06/17 photo of a typical field of dryland.
05/06/17 photo looking down in typical dryland wheat field.