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Mild winter leads to early harvest

By The Mercury

This year’s unusually warm late-winter weather is accelerating the area’s winter wheat crop, which could be ready for harvest in a month or less.

Area ag experts credit temperatures conducive to early growth along with moderate spring temperatures for the advance. Harvest operations here do not normally begin until around the third week in June, but it now looks like much of the harvest will be complete by that data.

“Because of the above normal temperatures in March, (wheat growth has) advanced in relation with the calendar,” said Jim Shroyer, a KSU agronomist. “We had wheat that was heading two to three weeks ahead of normal,” he added.

Given the normal 40-day period between flowering and harvest, that translates to local harvests as early as June 6. The precise date, however, will be influenced by conditions over the next few weeks: are they cool or hot, wet or dry?

“From this point on, it depends on what the weather does,” Shroyer said. “If it is cool (in the 70s), that slows the crop down. If it’s in the 80s or 90s, that speeds it up.”

Greg McClure, the county’s extension ag agent, is among those estimating that the crop will come in about two weeks earlier than normal, although he concedes he’s not comfortable picking the exact date. He even acknowledges the possibility of a May harvest. “There are people saying we’ll be harvesting before the first of June,” he says, adding quickly, that, “I don’t believe it.” The earliest date he can recall seeing a local harvest begin is around June 14. “I think we’ll beat that,” he said.

Wheat harvests generally begin in Kansas around mid-June, moving from south to north. But the harvest has already begun in Oklahoma and Texas.

Pam Shmidl is operations manager for the U.S. Custom Harvesters Association, based in Hutchinson.

She says the fast-ripening wheat has caused many of the associations’ members to begin their work early this year.

Agriculture experts are predicting a bountiful crop this year, if the weather cooperates.

The Associated Press contributed material to this article.

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