WRIGHT - Wheat farmer Kenny Stein tinkered with a 1981
Gleaner in the middle of the field, the old combine temporarily halted
amid a marathon of sorts.
Across the horizon, June fields of
golden wheat are scattered - ripe for the cutting. Not far away, two
grandsons were helping get the bounty binned, one in a combine and one
driving the tractor and grain cart.
this day, it was a loose bearing that halted the combine. But with
family and friends to help, within an hour or two, the machine was back
in the field, partaking in the annual Kansas rite.
is in full swing across the state, typically the top producer in the
nation of the grain. Thousands gather to help bring in the crop, which
spans 9 million acres.
Yet, as tradition continues across the
plains, there is also dismay. In some areas of southwest Kansas, still
parched from 2011, this year is another sub-par harvest.
It's not as bad as last year, however, Stein said. His wheat averaged 12 to 15 bushels an acre in 2011.
This year, he figures he will make 25 bushels an acre, maybe 30.
test weight has been low, the wheat basically ran out of moisture," he
said. "Consequently, our yield is lower, but it is so much better than
last year. We at least have a stand this year. We had a really thin
stand last year."
Still, he noted, two years of drought "makes it pretty difficult to make ends meet."
Potential for a dry summer
The year started out hopeful after one of the worst droughts since the 1930s Dust Bowl.
few inches of moisture came during planting time in October, helping
farmers get good stands of wheat. Winter brought a nice snow, followed
by a few small showers that made conditions better than last year.
in the past six weeks, rains shut off, said Matt Overturf, grain
manager at Skyland Grain based in Johnson in Stanton County.
30 days ago, 45 days ago, it looked like a nice crop," he said. "Then
it hasn't rained since. We are going to be a little below average, but
certainly it is better than last year."
Last year a third of the
wheat in the Skyland territory was zeroed out, Overturf said. This year a
few fields might make 40 or 50 bushels an acre, but most will average
20 to 25 bushels an acre. Quality has been above milling standards, at
least, nearing the 60-pound range, or No. 1-grade wheat.
to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 71 percent of Kansas is in some type of
drought. About 36 percent - largely in the western half of the state, is
rated as moderate to severe.
Forecasters don't give an optimistic
picture for the summer, either. The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook
released this week shows drought conditions to persist across
three-quarters of the state through August.
Near Minneola, Clark
County farmer Luke Jaeger maneuvered a combine through a thin stand of
wheat - his family dog following ahead of the machine in search of
rabbits. A rain last week left 0.30 of an inch of moisture, but "when it
is this dry, it doesn't help much," he said.
"Everyone is worried
about another year of drought," he said. "We got an inch of rain to
plant wheat in October and that has been it. ... We just didn't have any
soil moisture because it was just so bad last summer."
Jaeger, who farms
with his brother, Matt, said the family wheat fields are yielding
between 15 to 40 bushels an acre. He expects his harvest average to be
in the 20-bushel range.
"This is the second worst year on average," he said, adding, "Last year was the worst."
Fall crops are at risk now, which is another fret after last year. His family didn't harvest their 2011 milo crop.
any farmer, Jaeger was optimistic things would change - that rain
clouds would eventually blow into the area and give the land a reprieve
from the drought. And, at least, his wheat crop is not as bad as last
However, down the road at the Minneola Co-Op, Manager Dave
Strecker said this year's harvest is one of the worst he has
experienced. It's even poorer than last year.
"Last year we
harvested two-thirds of a crop," Strecker said as he worked the scale at
the elevator Wednesday. "This year will be less than that."
Harvest tradition despite yields
Near Wright, despite the below-average crop, a family harvest continues.
And for the Steins, it's a family reunion, something that Kenny Stein looks forward to every year.
"I love it," he said. "My kids come home. My grandkids come and help us. It's kind of a family deal."
Pat, who lives nearby, helps every year. Pat's son, Tyler, a University
of Kansas student, drives the combine. Another son, Doug, takes
vacation from his financial advising job in Salina, bringing with him
his son, Ryan, who graduated from KU in May.
Meanwhile, the Steins
work alongside neighbor and fellow farmer Kenny Rueb. For the past
seven years, both farmers have helped each other get their part of the
Kansas crop into the bin. Rueb's son, Kevin, drives one of the combines.
The crew of relatives will be in town for the next five to 10 days to help with the harvest.
"The main thing I like about coming back is that it is kind of the Super Bowl of farming," Doug Stein said. "All the hard work that comes to making that happen comes together in a 10-day time period."
sisters come back as well, although the early harvest this year caused a
few conflicts with schedules. While some help in the field, others are
in the kitchen, preparing harvest meals.
"We work hard and we play
hard," Doug Stein said. "It's just a fun time to come back. It's the
pinnacle of all our hard work and hopefully it pays off, sometimes it
does, sometimes it doesn't."
Ryan Stein, who was driving the
tractor and grain cart on this day, said harvest is a unique Kansas
experience that he gets to spend with close family.
his first harvest experience. He and cousin Tyler would help clean and
grease the combines then ride around with their fathers and grandpa.
get to be out here with my dad, my grandpa, cousins and other family
members - it just means a lot," he said. "I know it is something that a
lot of people don't get to do."
But Ryan is moving to Charlotte,
N.C., later this month for his first job after graduation. He didn't
know if he'd have enough vacation to come back for both Christmas and
"Hopefully," he said, "I won't have to choose."