By Amy Bickel
The Hutchinson News
KIOWA – When the wheat is ripe, you cut it – no matter if it is
May and Memorial Day is still a week away.
A few loads of wheat began trickling into the Kiowa-based OK Co-op
Grain on Monday, marking what most likely could be the earliest wheat harvest
for the Barber County elevator on the Kansas/Oklahoma
border. The southern area of the state is typically the first to take in Kansas’ signature crop.
“We’ll be getting full steam tomorrow (Tuesday),” said Assistant
Manager Brett Courson, who was checking a sample of Kansas wheat Monday afternoon. “They’re
starting to wheel in. Once you start seeing one combine rolling, the others
always get going.”
Test weights on the first two loads Monday varied – 61.5 pounds
and 56.8 pounds. The benchmark for No. 1-grade wheat is 60 pounds a bushel.
The early harvest is unprecedented in Kansas, where farmers usually don’t get into
full swing of cutting until well into June. The crop, however, is three weeks
ahead of schedule, thanks to a milder winter and several hot days this spring.
About 85 percent of the wheat in central and south-central Kansas has turned,
Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday. In all, 63 percent of
the crop is changing to amber – well ahead of 4 percent last year and the five-year
average of 2 percent.
Meanwhile, about five percent of Kansas
wheat already has matured, with south-central and southeast Kansas districts reporting 14 and 19
percent, respectively. The National Weather Service forecasts the week to be
breezy, with temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s – conditions that ripen
In Reno County, Torrey Ball was cutting barley south of Hutchinson Monday
afternoon. The crop ripened at least two weeks early, and he expects his wheat
crop to be ready for harvest around Memorial Day.
“It’ll be really close,” he said, adding, “I’ve never cut wheat
Ball was hesitant on just what kind of harvest 2012 would bring.
“I’m cautious,” he said. “If we would have caught rains a few
weeks ago, that would have made a difference.”
Wheat conditions continue to decline in the state due to the lack
of rainfall. KASS rated the wheat crop as 22 percent poor or very poor, 35
percent fair, 36 percent good and 7 percent excellent.
Still, conditions have improved from a year ago, when drought
plagued much of Kansas.
At present, about 24 percent of the state is in some type of drought, with 2
percent classified as severe, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Kiowa’s Courson said last week that a hailstorm took out a large
swath of wheat in the cooperative’s territory, but while it “hurt us a little,
we’re expecting an above-average harvest.”
“But you’ll never know until you get out there,” he added.