Sporting a pair of overalls, Robert “Bob” Bacon stood in a field of wheat stubble before moving his combine to the next mud hole of uncut wheat, expressing what many a Kansas farmer has felt this season.
It’s been one long, tough harvest, he said.
Normally, the veteran Reno County producer would have his combine cleaned out and safely put away until the next harvest. But on Tuesday, there was still harvest work to do. Five fields of mud holes needed to be harvested – roughly 200 bushels in all. It’s enough to keep him busy for an afternoon since he has to cut each field and haul it in separately for insurance purposes.
Then he can finally put the 2014 wheat harvest – hindered by both too little rain this spring and too much rain at cutting time – behind him.
Others are faced with the same lengthy dilemma, he said. In all, about 14 inches of rain has fallen in the Hutchinson area since June 1 – keeping combines out of the field for days at a time. It’s been enough to diminish the wheat’s quality and cause weeds to sprout up above the canopy of golden heads.
It’s a far different story than last fall when Bacon sewed his wheat into the Earth, watching as what seemed like a healthy stand began to grow.
“I’ve never planted for a crop disaster,” he said. “But, as the year progressed, it looked more and more like that.”
“I try to be positive, but this was one of the most discouraging growing seasons I have ever been associated with,” Bacon said, then later added, “The dominoes lined up, and bad domino after bad domino kept falling and there was no way to get out from under it.”
Last week across Kansas, all but 5 percent of Kansas’ wheat crop was safely in the bin. Largely what is left is similar to Bacon’s situation – spots too wet to cut the first time around.
It’s a change from the past three or four years as drought plagued Kansas farmland. Up until May, farmers were becoming discouraged it could be another dry summer, with Kansas’ wheat crop suffering from the little rainfall.
According to Jeff Darrow, who is based at the Kansas office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency, $130.6 million in wheat indemnity payments were paid out through this week on 1.4 million acres. In all, Kansas farmers planted 9.2 million acres to wheat last fall.
About 80 percent of the payments are for drought, he said.
While rains have helped, the drought is far from over. Much of Kansas is still in some type of drought, with about 33 percent ranked as severe to extreme – largely across the far western and southern areas of Kansas, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Jerald Kemmerer, general manager of Dodge City-based Pride Ag Resources, said his cooperative group took in just 60 percent of a normal crop, largely because of the drought. He said farmers would have hauled in 10 percent more wheat if it wasn’t for a couple of early June hailstorms that wiped out prime wheat ground.
Then, after a dry winter and spring, rains began to pour. Kemmerer’s cooperative measured 12 inches for June and July combined – more than for all of 2011, one of the hardest years of the drought.
In his territory, farmers finally wrapped up most of the harvest by July 12, but he said there are still a few trying to finish.
“We are pretty much wrapping it up this week – just a few mud holes guys were cleaning up,” he said.
Rains are helping the maturing fall crops like corn, milo and soybeans, Kemmerer said. There is potential for a bumper crop on both dryland and irrigated acres.
“The fall crops look phenomenal,” he said. “Everyone is excited: ‘Let’s get the wheat cut and get it out of here – let’s move on.’ ”
The rain, it seems, keeps falling in some areas. At Scott Co-op in Scott City, General Manager Gary Friesen said showers earlier this week ranged from 0.6 of an inch to 2 or 3 inches.
While rains stalled harvest, this year’s wheat crop was better than expected, with the elevator taking in about 70 percent of its 10-year average. Moisture has been great for fall crops. More heat units are needed, however, for the later-planted milo.
But the expectation for a good crop already is reflected in the markets, Friesen said. Corn prices have dipped below $4 a bushel – and harvest is still a month or so away.
Season’s last loads
Bacon calls it one of the longest, rainiest wheat harvests in recent years. He started harvest around June 20 and was finally finishing up all but the mud holes July 15.
With just the mud holes left, he and the family went on vacation. Bacon returned this week to finish harvest.
“The wheat is so bad, I wasn’t going to lose anything,” he said.
But driving around the area, he and his neighbors should have an above-average fall harvest, Bacon said with a jovial grin before taking back off on the combine to finish up the day.
“Everyone I talk to says this was one of the most discouraging spring/summers,” he said. “Now that we are looking forward to fall harvest, people’s moods are changing.”