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Fortune smiles on Kansas wheat farm

Once in a long while, all the chips fall the right way and a Kansas farm family raises the best wheat crop it ever had. The Kent Winter family of northwestern Sedgwick County harvested such a crop in late June.

"It's just incredible when the weather cooperates and you manage to have a few things in place -- but it's rare, it's not customary, it's unusual to have such a crop," says Kent Winter. "It was a real blessing for us."

The Sedgwick County farmer started working with his father 30 years ago. He's farmed on his own since his dad retired in the late '90s.

Winter recalls many a year when wheat harvest didn't pan out so well. The year 1967 stands out as a "very thin" harvest because of a dry winter.

However, 2013 will be a wheat harvest the Winter family remembers for a long time. The majority of the 800 acres produced 60 bushels-per-acre or a bit more. A couple of wheat fields pushed the low 70s.

"It was a combination of small incremental things that added up" Winter says. "Most of them were out of our control. We had a lot of help from Mother Nature and a higher power."

The genesis of this outstanding wheat crop started last summer during the multi-year drought in southern Kansas. In the back of his mind, Winter kept remembering what the "old-timers" always said.

"Wheat is a dry-weather crop."

This prompted Winter to plant more than half the acres he farmed to wheat. Some timely fall rains helped establish a good stand back in October of 2012.

Another factor that led to this year's bumper crop was planting the wheat into some failed fields of dry-land corn and soybeans from the summer of 2012. Because of last summer's drought, this corn and bean cropland had a good amount of residual fertilizer available for the newly sewn wheat crop.

Planting this year's wheat crop in these fields just seemed right, Winter says. Being able to rotate this row crop land into wheat also seemed like the right thing to do.

The real game changer for this year's wheat crop occurred occurred in mid-February when the crop was blanketed with 20 inches of snow.

"We'd already top-dressed the crop," Winter says. "The snow came out of nowhere. It stayed on our fields and the moisture went deep into the soil."

Timely spring rains followed the snowstorm and a cool period ensued as the wheat crop filled.

Five inches of rain fell during this late spring period and really capped off a tremendous growing season, Winter says.

"We were fortunate to dodge the hail and bad weather that often accompanies such spring moisture events," the Sedgwick County farmer says. "In the back of our minds, we all know it may be our turn to have less than favorable weather and a more normal growing period."

Still, this year's crop remains the culmination of a great harvest for the south-central Kansas farmer. Winter is thankful for his bumper crop. He also understands that next year someone else in another region of Kansas will have a turn at harvesting a great crop like his of 2013.

Let's hope, this will be the case for farmers in western Kansas where some have suffered recent crop failures, especially in the southwest, where drought has plagued this region of the state for three consecutive years.

Hoxie native John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas who writes for the Kansas Farm Bureau.