Daily Drenching Puts Damper on Wheat Harvest

Daily Drenching Puts Damper on Wheat Harvest

Much of state is struggling with disappointing yields, wet conditions that make harvest slow and difficult.

After months, even years, of persistent drought, it's raining in bone dry Kansas. Raining every day, sometimes twice or three times a day.

"We've had more rain in the month of June than we had the whole previous year," says Lane County farmer and wheat seedsman Vance Ehmke, who farms near Dighton. "It's insane. At this rate, we'll still be trying to harvest some fields a month or two months from now."

The story is the same across much of the state. Wheat harvest has been starting and stopping with persistent showers for more than two weeks and is still only about 30% complete.

SLOW HARVEST: Just about every time combines are running in earnest, as they were early last week, another series of storms moves in, shutting down the action. The 2014 crop, already challenged by freeze and drought, is now being hit with a harvest season of daily rain.

When rain comes, it comes in spade
"I had one farmer tell me that he took a load in to the elevator that came in at 40% moisture," he said. "That is what we are looking at," Ehmke said. "It's like we've become one of those areas where there is a monsoon season and that is the only time of the year that it rains."

In south-central Kansas, which typically has some of the best yields in the state, wheat harvest has been slowed by rain as well. Many farmers have seen disappointing yields, most because of winter and spring drought, while some fields have been surprisingly good.

The Bontrager custom cutting crew out of Haven was cutting in their home territory last week and reported getting between 50 and 60 bushels to the acre with test weights above 60 pounds. However, the longer the wet conditions prevail, the greater the chances that kernels with shrink and test weights go down.

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The drenching has been sufficient to move much of the state out of the two worst categories of drought, even though extreme southwestern Kansas remained in severe drought, as did the westernmost tier of counties in the latest U.S. Drought Monitor from last Thursday. That could very well change by next Thursday because of widespread storms bringing heavy rains to those areas over the weekend.

Too much rain and muddy fields are the latest plague on the 2014 wheat crop, which was hit by early freeze, drought and late freeze in much of the state already.

Ehmke said he expects tight supplies of some seed varieties for this fall's planting season.

"I think most of Kansas will probably be all right for seed. Some people may not get their first variety choice, but we'll likely have enough seed. I can't say that for Oklahoma and Texas. As bad as things have been in Kansas, it was way worse down there."

Problems with nitrogen leaching
Ehmke said the 12 inches of June rain in Lane County have also been a problem for the corn crop.

"We've had nitrogen leached out by the heavy rains to the point that the crop is yellow as can be," he said. "And supplies of urea are almost non-existent. Everything has already been applied to the corn crop and it's just washing away."

One bright side to the rainy spell has been the benefit to pastures.

"Everything was brown and dusty just a month ago," Ehmke said. "Now the pastures are looking green and lush and the cattlemen are thrilled to see the grass coming back. I guess the big question on everybody's mind is how long will this last? Should we prepare for a wet summer or will the tap just turn off and we won't see rain again for a year?"

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