Archive for Thursday, June 28, 2007

Spring chill causes farmers to experience short wheat harvest

June 28, 2007

Jerry Neis' fears are being confirmed with each all-too-rapid pass of his combine through a 12-acre field southeast of Eudora.

Land that typically would produce enough wheat to fill a tractor-trailer last Thursday yielded perhaps a fourth of that.

Translation: Neis is barely breaking even as he embarks on this year's wheat harvest, a 240-acre task that looks to last only six days compared with the usual stretch of 14.

The only good news: For someone who isn't getting paid for his time in the combine anyway, the all-too-easy cutting won't last much longer.

"It's a sad story," Neis said, between loads Thursday afternoon.

How sad?

"Very sad."

He figures there's not much more to say, nearly 11 weeks after a harsh freeze crippled much of the 9,000 or so acres dedicated to wheat in Douglas County.

Even with wheat prices up more than a dollar per bushel from a year ago, fuel prices of $3 a gallon are eating into what little profit farmers might have enjoyed.

And that's after the season started out with realistic hopes for a bumper crop.

"After that frost, the way things looked, we didn't expect much anymore," Bill Wood, the county's agriculture agent for K-State Research and Extension, said Thursday, having checked a few area fields during the past two days. "It will be interesting, once they get the combines out in the fields, what it brings in: I'll bet 20 (bushels) an acre will catch a lot of it.

"But it just shows: You can't overrule Mother Nature. When she comes in, she rules."

Wood said that the recent moisture that has kept farmers out of the fields actually might end up helping some wheat farmers.

With enough water captured beneath the surface, farmers who have harvested their wheat might be able to quickly plant soybeans for harvest later this year.

The process, called double cropping, could help some farmers offset losses on wheat, he said.

"An early harvest is nice when you try to double crop," Wood said. "They can get in and get it done."

For Neis, it's first things first. He figures his wheat fields will yield anywhere from 10 to 15 bushels an acre. Douglas County typically posts an average yield of more than 40 bushels an acre.

And with Thursday's loads limping in with test weights of 46 pounds per bushel -- the standard for quality wheat is 60 pounds per bushel -- Neis won't be collecting any premiums. Moisture content has ranged from 9 percent to 15 percent, generally straddling the dry line of 13.5 percent.

But he's not crying about it. Or complaining.

Just explaining.

"It's part of farming," he said.

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