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'When the wheat is ready, you cut it'

5/29/2012

By AMY BICKEL

By AMY BICKEL

Special to The Hays Daily News

HAVEN -- In his 31 years of cutting wheat, Gary Coleman has seen all types of harvests.

For instance, one year, after several June showers, cutting started as late as around the Fourth of July. Never, however, has the Haven-area farmer cut wheat in May.

Neither have his neighbors, he said.

Yet, ready or not, harvest is moving across Reno County and the state. And Coleman says he has been anxiously ready.

"When the wheat is ready, you cut it," he quipped from atop his combine, guiding it through the rippling wheat that spread across a Memorial Day blue sky. "If we don't get any rain, I'll probably be done before wheat harvest normally starts."

While most Kansans enjoyed a work-free Memorial Day, some of the state's farmers spent the day in the field, bringing in the crop at least three weeks early.

"I never have seen it in my lifetime," said Curt Croisant, general manager of Abbyville Co-op, of a Memorial Day harvest.

With farmers in the fields, his crew spent Monday taking in wheat instead of at the lake or a barbecue. Through Monday morning, the elevator had binned nearly 40,000 bushels.

There already was a line at the Farmers Co-op Elevator in Pretty Prairie when Jessie Cable got to work Monday. Moreover, with other elevator activity occurring with the farmers' recently planted fall crops, it feels like they are short staffed, she said.

It's been the kind of weather, after all, that ripens wheat quickly. Temperatures soared to 91 degrees Monday and the hot wind helped dry down the crop.

"Today has been the first day of a heavy harvest," said Haven's Mid-Kansas Co-op location manager Jeff Jones, adding crews took in 11,000 bushels from the time the first load came in Saturday morning through Monday morning.

"It's starting to get into full swing," he said.

Farmers are cutting wheat as ponds dry up, newly planted fall crops need a drink and drought conditions spread.

Last week, just a quarter of the state was in some type of drought. This week, more than 80 percent of the state is in abnormally dry to extreme conditions.

There is a 50-percent chance of rain Wednesday night, but Coleman's truck driver Deborah Smith looked up at the cloudless sky and wondered if it really would happen.

"I'll believe it when I see it," she said as she waited for a truck to fill with wheat.

While moisture is much needed, it's a double-edged sword during wheat harvest. Rain brings down test weights and storms could bring hail, which is why he wants to get it in the bin, Coleman said.

At Pretty Prairie, test weights have been above 60 pounds a bushel, the benchmark for No. 1-grade wheat, Cable said.

At Farmers Co-Op at Nickerson, where harvest started Saturday, quality has varied from 53 to 65 pounds a bushel.

General Manager Joe Schauf said he wondered if a freeze this spring might have done more damage than previously thought. Dry conditions, especially to wheat planted in sandy soil, also could have caused the lower quality.

It is still too early to know yields. Schauf said he heard reports from two farmers -- one saying a field averaged 41 bushels an acre, another reporting his patch as high as 69 bushels an acre.

Harvest so far has been slow, he said. However, barring rain this week, "we should be hot and heavy by the end of the week."

He cannot remember a time when farmers in these parts cut wheat on Memorial Day.

"Usually we are worried if we are working on the Fourth of July," he said. "If it doesn't rain, we'll be done by mid-June."

In addition, for those celebrating the country's independence, "they ought to be able to pop firecrackers without burning wheat," he said.