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Brian: High seas harvesting

Minneola, Kansas—The colorful dirt of Oklahoma slowly shifts its hue from red to brown every mile we draw closer to the Kansas state line. The hot afternoon sun beats down on the grasslands of southern Kansas, and the pastures look pretty parched. This area has received precious little moisture over the last year, and a quick scan of the horizon looks as if a sepia tone filter has been applied. Squint a little harder and you can see rows of white masts sprouting up in the distance, wind turbine blades spinning in the brisk Kansas breeze.


The crew has wasted no time getting to work after arriving in Minneola, Kansas. Oklahoma harvest was so delayed in starting with all the rain the fields of southwest Kansas were ready to go before we even arrived. This area has experienced a tough growing season as well with a severe lack of moisture. It’s not the bumper crop everyone wished for, but late season rains came in time to produce respectable yields. Most test weights and protein levels have been normal, and the yields have averaged around 25 bushels per acre. Some fields are a little poorer while a few have exceeded 35 bushels per acre. It seems this year previous crop rotation history played an important role in final yield numbers. The wheat is shorter than normal and the straw is not very heavy, allowing the machines to move along pretty quickly most of the time. The U.S. Drought Monitor may rate most of southwest Kansas in the D3 extreme drought category but somehow the weeds always seem to survive. Some fields are beginning to have a fairly green undergrowth coming, so we have prioritized harvesting those with the most weed pressure first.


It always seems Kansas is hot and windy, and this year did not deviate from that. Temperatures were over 100 degrees the afternoon we pulled equipment up to Kansas, and we have had a number of triple-digit days since. Strong winds over 30 miles per hour are pretty common, and higher wind gusts can make it a challenge to get the wheat in the grain trailers. The long augers of today’s combines are perfect for unloading into tall grain carts without fear of making contact with them in hilly terrain. But the wheat cascades down from so high now that strong winds and unpredictable gusts keep the operators on their toes to hit their truck target and not the ground. The weather has managed to brew up an angry, dark sky twice but the rainfall never amounts to much. What little rain does fall sends the crew home early, but the moisture is quickly erased by 105 degrees the following day.


After a string of long harvest days the crew is feeling like we’ve lost a little wind in our sails. The Kansas winds could be confused for a strong ocean breeze, so the crew will keep on navigating the high seas of harvest. It might be dry as a bone around here, but there are amber waves of grain everywhere you look. We are almost finished here in Minneola, and then we will pull out of port and cruise on over to the Sublette area 50 miles west of here. Once docked it will be all hands on deck as we finish up here in Kansas. It’s been smooth sailing so far, so let’s hope nothing rocks the boat.



Brian Jones can be reached at brian@allaboardharvest.com.


All Aboard Wheat Harvest is brought to you by ITC Holdings, CASE IH, Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children, US Custom Harvesters Inc., Unverferth Mfg. Co. Inc., Lumivia CPL by Corteva Agriscience, Kramer Seed Farms, and High Plains Journal.


Rain sends the crew home early, making time for some fun at the park near by. Basketball is the game of choice for the Hamer boys.


The flat fields of Kansas (and better harvest conditions) finally gives Ezra a chance to drive the combine. It’s amazing what can be learned through simple observation.  Judging by how well he does, Ezra clearly has been paying attention. He’s a big fan of the new ventilated seat, which is just another reason he wants to spend more time in it.


Sunsets and shadows. Wheat and windmills. Earth and electricity. Sometimes the strangest of things come together in a scenic silhouette.


Cotton ball clouds bring much needed rains to the parched parries of southwest Kansas. Wheat and wind towers can be seen in all directions.


Amber waves of grain glow golden in a spectacular setting of the sun. Scenes like these never get old and make a compelling case to spend more time outside to admire nature’s beauty.


Like two ships passing in the night. Well, maybe not exactly like that … but the machines pass each other in parallel repeatedly until they meet, signaling another field has been finished.


Lower yields mean longer time between unloading into the trucks. No long lines at the elevator this year, and no empty trucks returning to combines with full grain tanks eagerly awaiting their return.


 Rain showers in the distance draw closer to our field, and all eyes are on the weather app’s latest radar images. There is a fine line between getting as much done before the rain as possible and staying too long before everyone gets wet.


The terrain of Kansas is certainly not like that of Oklahoma. Odd shaped fields and endless terraces are replaced with square fields and harvesting in laser-straight lines.


 The sun sets in a pink hue tonight behind stormy skies. The lights come on, pushing back the darkness as the crew begins another nightshift.


While the stormy skies stop harvest progress, the crew is not too upset by the small showers that send them home early. After a string of long days and long hours the crew appreciates a few extra hours of downtime and then head to bed early for a change.


Storms can be both a fright and a delight. Somehow the manage to look unfriendly yet photogenic simultaneously. Although it looks ominous, this storm only produces a brief downpour without any damage to the crops.



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