Travel out to the fields of Kansas during November, and you'll see farmers wrapping up fall harvest. Combines chomp through fields of corn, milo, soybeans and sunflowers eager to dump the bountiful crops into waiting trucks and grain carts before Old Man Winter arrives with ice, snow and sleet.
Approximately 86 percent of the corn crop has been harvested, 72 percent of the soybean crop is in the bin, 52 percent of sorghum is out of the field, and 57 percent of the sunflowers remain to be cut.
Today's green, red and silver monsters move through the fields like tanks rolling through a war game. All across Kansas, farmers pilot these 12-ton behemoths as easily as the family car.
On gravel and blacktop roads, tandem trucks and semis race back from the elevators so the machines can fill them again. Fall harvest in Kansas marks that magical time of the year when the world's best producers of food and fiber reap what they have sown.
This bountiful production underscores the importance of farming and ranching in Kansas. Our Kansas farmers, and their contemporaries across this great land, continually risk all that is theirs for a successful harvest.
They work with the land, chemicals, computers and livestock. They must understand markets, people, soil, crops and climate. Their livelihood is largely dependent upon factors that are oftentimes completely out of their control.
Still, farmers farm to succeed. They farm to grow and harvest crops and produce livestock. Farmers see their vocation not only as a business, but also as a way of life to preserve in good times and bad. They have their feet planted firmly in their soil. They are dedicated to the land and providing us with the safest, most wholesome food on the planet.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the average person consumes approximately 194 pounds of cereal products annually. When you couple that with approximately 66 pounds of oils, 115 pounds of red meat and 63 pounds of poultry, it's readily apparent why Kansas harvest is an important time.
Today's consumer has the option of using nearly 4,000 different corn products. These range from corn flakes to corn sweeteners. Corn and milo remain the top source of livestock feed.
Countless foods are made from today's fall soybean crop. Some of these include crackers, cooking oils, salad dressings, sandwich spreads and shortenings. Soybeans are used extensively to feed livestock, poultry and fish.
Sunflowers from the Sunflower State can be used as an ingredient in everything from cooking to cosmetics and bio-diesel cars. And as you probably already know, they're a really tasty snack -- and healthy, too.
So if you have an opportunity to visit our state's fertile fields this fall, think about the professionals who are busy providing the food we find on our tables each and every day. Tip your hat, raise an index finger above the steering wheel of your car or give a friendly wave to these producers of food and fiber who are dedicated to feeding you and the rest of the world.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwest Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.