06 Jul 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.