‘Early harvest’ stalled by persistent rains

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Rain, rain, go away-but Marion County farmers sure hope it comes back another day.

In the meantime, they need maybe a week of sunshine and hot temperatures.

That’s the pervasive attitude of area farmers and elevator workers as the 2004 winter wheat harvest sloshed to a halt this past week.

Elevator operators say the rains came before the harvest really got rolling.

Lyman Adams, general manager of the Hillsboro-based Cooperative Grain and Supply, summed up local attitudes as “frustrating.”

“People want to do something and get the crop out of the fields, but they can’t-so it’s just a waiting game,” he said.

Adams estimated 35 to 40 percent of the crop in the Hillsboro area has been harvested; CG&S has taken in 281,000 bushels.

“We took our first load in on the fourth of June,” Adams said. “We hired seasonal help that started on June 1, and here it is the 21st and we’re not even half done.

“The cost to the elevators is rising with each day,” he said.

With just more than 6 inches of rain over the past 10 days, Adams said challenges are on the horizon.

“We know the quality of the grain has been affected-we just don’t know how much,” he said. “Our biggest challenge will be how to handle the wet wheat.

“As space gets tighter, you have to ship dry wheat, but you can’t wait too long or you’ll be full before you get to ship it out.”

Adams said the perfect prescription would be about “five days of sunshine and no rain, and 80-plus-degree weather.”

“The wheat will be ready before the ground is,” he said. “From the standpoint of the farmers, they have to make some decisions-whether to leave tracks in the fields or to leave mud holes. A lot of guys are no-til farmers and they can’t afford to track up their fields.

“Before the rains, the quality of the wheat was good,” he added. “We had test weights over 60 pounds and yields between 40 and 60 bushels per acre.

“There’s still a lot of good wheat out in the fields-it’s just a matter of if and when we can get to it.”

Sentiments were the same farther south at the Mid-Kansas Cooperative Association branch elevator located in Peabody.

Location manager Chris Bielefeld said only about 15 percent of the local crop has been harvested.

“We’ve only taken in about 96,000 bushels,” Bielefeld said. “It’s kind of a two-fold deal-the rain is good for the row crops like the corn, milo and soybeans, but on the other hand there’s a good wheat crop in the fields that the guys can’t get to.”

Bielefeld said the first load of wheat came across the scales in Peabody on June 8.

“For no more than we’ve taken in, the reports on yields have been pretty good, but most of the guys haven’t cut enough to really get a good reading,” he said. “We had a couple guys try it on Saturday and Sunday, but it was way too wet.

“We haven’t seen any sprouting, but our test weights have definitely taken a hit,” he added. “And weeds will become a problem in the near future, too.”

Bielefeld said it’s possible to run grain driers, but he’s hoping it won’t be necessary.

“We hope we’ll be able to blend the wet wheat with the dry wheat, but that adds expenses to our side of it, too.”

Bielefeld said it’s always a goal to be finished with the wheat harvest by the Fourth of July.

“But we have a long ways to go,” he said. “It’s starting to get really muddy and the guys are going to have to pick and choose where they can and can’t go.

“Surprisingly, most people’s attitudes around here are pretty good,” he said. “They know they can’t do anything about the weather, so there’s no use complaining about it.

“It’ll get dry someday.”

At the northern end of Marion County, reports of 4 to 5 inches of rain were common, effectively halting the harvest in that area, too.

“I think we’ve got about one third of the wheat cut in the Tampa area,” said Stan Utting, general manager of Agri Producers Inc. “We took our first load in on the seventh of June and so far we’ve only taken in about 274,000 bushels.”

Utting said the effects of the recent monsoon haven’t been evaluated yet.

“We really haven’t had any wheat come in the last four or five days, so we’re not quite sure what the effect of all the rain has been on the standing wheat,” he said. “But when we start to handle a lot of wet wheat, that’s a real challenge.

“We have to find a place for that wheat, whether we blend it with dry wheat or whatever,” he said. “We have to handle it extra when it’s wet and our costs increase.

“We have people hired to do things and now we’re not really getting much done,” he said. “We have them cleaning up and that’s about it.”

Utting said farmers and elevator operators remain cautiously optimistic the harvest will still be a success.

“So far the mood of the people isn’t too bad,” Utting said. “I think if it straightens up and we get some sun and wind, things shouldn’t be too bad.

“But if this keeps it up much longer, it could be quite a mess.”

Forecasts on Monday called for more scattered showers during the week. Utting said the area needs typical harvest weather-wind and heat.

“We could get quite a bit cut in five or six days but it’s all up to the weather,” he said. “The last few years things have been pretty dry and pretty quick.

“It’s been awhile since we’ve had something like this,” he added. “We haven’t had one of these things for several years.”

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