Reno County farmer Kenny Pauls is stuck in the mud.
Not that he hasn’t been stuck before, he said.
As storms brewed in the west Thursday, Pauls and his custom cutting crew began their first day of the Kansas wheat harvest – maneuvering two machines through fields of surprising high-yielding wheat.
One field near Burrton was yielding 60-plus bushels an acre – making it even harder to shut down at 10 p.m. when the wheat got too tough to cut.
By Friday morning, Pauls was rained out. Many other combines were idled across south-central Kansas almost as soon as they were started.
It’s not looking promising for the weekend, either, with forecasters estimating that by Sunday residents could see between 2 and 4 inches of rain falling.
“The forecast isn’t good for wheat weather,” Pauls said.
Farmers and ranchers across Kansas have been saying prayers of thanks for the moisture relief after four years of drought.
But when June harvest comes – it’s hard to not hope for a string of blue-sky days. If anything, at least enough days to get most of the wheat stored safely in the bin before any inclement weather – such as the great white combine known as hail – destroys the crop.
“It’s not ideal,” said Pauls, who was working on equipment as rain sprinkled near his farm. “But there is not much we can do about it. We’ll see what it does and take what we can get. The rain we had, especially through May, was needed.”
Lightning in the sky
The nagging storms have sputtered to a stop the harvest ritual across the nation’s southern wheat belt.
Trying to beat the rain, Chad Speer watched lightning spark across the northern sky as he rolled the combine through a field near Franklin, Oklahoma. The Dighton-area custom harvester finally shut down at 2:30 a.m. Friday. By daylight, a misty rain was wetting the wheat with forecasters calling for 3 inches Friday.
The crew of five only needed one more hot, windy day and they would be done in Oklahoma and moving to Ness County, Kansas.
“This little shower, it sure could have waited until we were done,” the third-generation harvester said, adding his client farmer is getting worried. “If Mother Nature would have let us have today (Friday), we would have finished up.”
Steve Inslee, general manager at Barber County’s OK-Co-op Grain, said the elevator group took in 115,000 bushels through Thursday.
The rain will most likely lower test weights below 60 pounds a bushel, the standard for No. 1-grade wheat.
“It’s probably going to be Monday or Tuesday before we can get them going again,” he said, noting the forecast for the weekend.
Terry Kohler, general manager of the Garden Plain-based Farmers Cooperative Elevator, said the co-op’s Pretty Prairie branch took in 50,000 bushels before being halted by weather. The Varner branch, not far to the south, binned 135,000.
Company-wide, more than 570,000 bushels have been received.
“The moisture as been wonderful – we are always thankful for that,” Kohler said. “The question is always timing. But we’ve been the other way before, we don’t want to scare it away.”
Clear skies next week
Forecasters are estimating an area from Wichita southwest to Medicine Lodge could receive up to 4 inches by Monday. The region from McPherson south could get between 1.5 to 3 inches during that time period, according to the Wichita office of the National Weather Service.
Hutchinson has a 60 percent chance of rain through Monday, with chances of rain continuing through Wednesday. Higher chances for moisture are predicted along the border north to Wichita.
That doesn’t look promising for Inslee’s territory. There is still a lot of wheat to be cut, he said. Many custom crews haven’t made it to Kansas yet, still hung up in Oklahoma and Texas due to the deluge of rain.
Still, he said “If you get a little sun and wind – it’s amazing what you can do. They could be going Sunday.”