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Wheat grows despite long dry spell

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

UTICA -- Joss Briggs only could marvel at the tenacity of the wheat crop he's been cutting for nearly two weeks now.

"Seventy-five days between rains," he said of the crop as he waited Monday for a mechanic to come fix his John Deere combine. "We've really been blessed."

It was an unfortunate stroke of luck his combine broke down on the final field of the harvest, perhaps one of poorest fields out of those that have been cut by the Briggs family -- Joss, brother Bart and father Bill.

Located not far -- but well out of sight -- of Monument Rocks in southwest Gove County, the field is a recent conversion from grass to planted crops. It long had been planted to grass in the Conservation Reserve Program, brought out to grow crops.

Wheat was planted into the field behind last year's corn crop, only to get it into a rotation scheme that fit within the operation's plans.

"We really didn't expect to raise much of anything given the weather," Briggs said as he ferried a grain cart out to collect wheat from the remaining combine.

While they did have success, he said he wouldn't have had to go far to find fields that produced small crops, some as low as 15 bushels to the acre.

In the Dighton area, for example, yields in many cases were worse this year than last, thanks to early rains that simply shut off once the crop had grown to its full potential much earlier than normal.

But when moisture shut off and temperatures climbed, some fields simply ran out of moisture and couldn't support the production of grain.

Harvest for the Briggs family started June 4 with more than 3,000 acres eventually being cut.

The June 4 harvest was the "earliest we ever started in the history of our farm," he said.

And one neighbor, Briggs said, even tried to start cutting May 31.

"Normally, we'd just really be thinking about getting started," he said.

There have been early years, but never one this early.

"We really expected this to be a pretty poor wheat year," Briggs said.

Instead, test weights were normal to above average on nearly every field they cut.

It's been an odd year as well because of how wheat harvest affected corn and milo planting.

Milo already planted has struggled to emerge, although he and other farmers hope it will with recent rains, amounting to nearly an inch during the course of two days.

"Who knows?" Briggs said of how fall crops will fare. "I thought the wheat crop was going to be a failure. So I'm not going to write off the corn crop."