A wet winter and spring have so far brought plentiful wheat yields in southwest Kansas, as regional farmers reach the end of a continually delayed harvest.
Such delays vary for each farm. Kyle Deaver, of Finney County, stalled a handful of days, while Vance Ehmke, of Lane County, Garrett Love, of Gray County, and Amy France, of Scott, and Wichita counties fell behind one to several weeks, all mostly due to weather. For the most part, however, the soggy seasons have been worth it.
“Moisture is our delay, but it was also what has helped us considerably,” France said.
Heavy rain and particularly snow make way for a good wheat crop, Deaver said. He said dry land will outproduce irrigated land after a snowy winter. And southwest Kansas got plenty of precipitation this year, Ehmke said. Generally his farm sees 18 to 19 inches of rain and snow melt over a growing season. This year, he’s seen 30.
The result is welcome yields all around. Deaver said his farm was experiencing an average year, which he described as 50 to 70 bushels an acre. Ehmke reported ranges of 66 to more than 100 bushels an acre on his property, France roughly 70 to 80. All were seeing improvements from the dry year prior, which produced about 40 to 45 bushels per acre for Ehmke.
The heavy rains meant significant savings on irrigation, but they also meant storms with the potential to damage crops. Ehmke experienced flooding and France was hit lightly by hail.
To the southwest, Love, farming about 7 miles north of Montezuma, lost a significant portion of his crop to damage from a recent hail storm. Some fields projected to yield 95 bushels an acre dropped to zero; others expected to produce 80 or 85 shrunk to 30. About 1,200 of Love’s 1,800 acres of wheat was impacted. His father had not seen anything like it in 40 to 50 years of farming the land, Love said.
“(The hail storm) went through a lot of counties out here. A lot of people in our area are having the same frustration … ” Love said.
None of the four farmers experienced any significant damage due to diseases to their crops, but several had noticed a drop in the wheat’s protein content. The issue is widespread, Ehmke and Love said, potentially a result of higher yields across the board.
Despite those higher yields, all profits are still at the mercy of a market hit by Trump trade policies, Deaver and Ehmke said. A plentiful harvest helps “take a bite” out of that disadvantage, but without the “price interruption caused by our president, it could be a pretty exciting year,” Ehmke said.
“We’ve been in a slump for a long time because of (trade wars) … and we’re paying for it just because of the volatile market,” Deaver said. “It’s really hard for us to do anything when one tweet changes everything. We’re hanging by a thread just trying to market our grain. It’s a little frustrating. It could be worse, but it could be better.”
In the meantime, farmers move to fall crops — in some cases facing risks of being planted late due to the rainy summer — and brace, as Ehmke said, for weather that has so far varied wildly from extremely dry to extremely wet, and back again.
“You have no idea what’s coming. I’ve talked to a number of people at (Kansas State University) about that and they say that the people who are talking about climate change say this is exactly what they were talking about. You just go from one extreme to the other,” Ehmke said. “I am dying to find out what the rest of this year is going to be like.”
Contact Amber Friend at email@example.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the location of Garrett Love's farm. He works in Gray County.