Wheat farmers make best of late wet weather


By Amy Bickel

By Amy Bickel

Special to The Telegram.

(MCT) — After a multi-year drought, it's tough to turn down rain.

But Phyll McGonigle has just a few days left before all his wheat is safely in the bin. It would be nice if he had clear skies until then, he said.

"If the rain wants to wait two days, it would be just fine," he said as he cut wheat west of Nickerson Wednesday afternoon. "But we can't order it."

If only he could order in rain, he said, noting that would mean requesting some moisture this spring, which would have bolstered the state's drought-stricken wheat.

But instead, amid a multi-year drought, the rain is coming in June. It has caused harvest to progress slowly across the state, thanks to rainfall over the past few weeks. Storms that have popped up starting on Sunday evening have continued to keep some farmers out of the fields through Wednesday.

Mother Nature, in fact, has dumped bucket loads on the region in a matter of a few weeks, compared to the minimal amount received by farmers the first five months of the year.

Hutchinson has received about 8.50 inches of rain since June 1, compared to 6.70 inches from January through May. Normal rainfall for June is about 4.50 inches.

At Farmers Co-op Elevator at Halstead, General Manager Jack Queen said they have had 1 1/2 to 3 inches since Sunday.

It has boosted the fall crops but now it only hinders the wheat crop.

"If we could have gotten rain three weeks earlier, we would have been cutting 50- to 60-bushel wheat instead of 25- to 30-bushel wheat."


Queen said harvest is about 50 to 60 percent complete in his area. But he didn't expect much activity until Friday or Saturday because of wet fields. Meanwhile, with too much rain, some farmers have sprayed for weeds in their better wheat, which means they have to wait several days until they harvest the crop.

He's hoping to harvest half of what they normally have taken in the past few years.

With no further rain, harvest might resume in some pockets across the area in the next day or two, with cutting rolling good again by the weekend, Erik Lange, director of southern operations for Mid-Kansas Co-op, said of the cooperative's territory.

"Currently, wheat harvest is stalled everywhere in our trade territory," said Lange, who also noted weeds from the rain are now appearing above the canopy in some fields.

Yields are ranging from 5 to 70 bushels on irrigated acres, but most is around 30 bushels an acre, he said.

"Mainly, it's drought," he said of the reason for below-normal yields, but added, "We have had hail damage, we had freeze damage. It just has been a rough year on the wheat."

On Tuesday night, McGonigle said he watched the storms brew and blow by him, leaving just a sprinkle but enough to keep him out of the field for the rest of the night.

But the 70-year-old farmer was glad to be back in the field, admitting harvest brings worry until the crop is safely in the bin.

That's especially true of this field, he said, which must have benefited from late May showers. It was making between 45 to 50 bushels an acre.

Mary Knapp, service climatologist with Kansas State Weather Data Library, calls June's storms "popcorn" storms.

These convective storms bring instability and look like popcorn balls that are expanding, she said. They aren't connected to a frontal system, so they don't move very much. One farm might get a few inches and another a few miles away might receive just a half inch.

"It's just re-firing over the same area," she said.

But even with the rainfall, the southwestern quarter of Kansas is still far behind, thanks to the prolonged drought that stunted the thin wheat crop and depleted the subsoil moisture, Knapp said. Haskell County has only received just 38 percent of normal rainfall for the year. Ness City is at 54 percent of normal.

Much needed

Rained out from the field Wednesday, Dighton-area farmer Steve Heath said he hopes to get rolling by Friday.

He's received more than two inches this week and .60 of an inch Tuesday night.

It probably will drop test weights, he said, which have been a silver lining amid a poor harvest. Last week, his crop was averaging above 60 pounds a bushel, or No.1-grade wheat.

"What we have cut so far has been 7 up to 32 bushels an acre," he adding, "A lot more of the 7 than the 32."

But there are other positives. Rain is helping his newly planted milo.

It's also boosting spirits.

"June saved us," he said. "Not really, of course, with the wheat. But it is going to help next year's wheat crop.

"I guess that shows I'm an optimist," he said.

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