Tall tales about brome grass

By Jim Suber

Even though experts now predict the 2013 Kansas wheat crop to nose barely above a mere 300 million bushels — this boosted in many places by timely rains and long absent rains this spring—harvest is still a time for festival-like thinking and feelings.

A real festival celebrating what wheat is largely about—breads—was to be this weekend in (our) Manhattan, which with its leading agricultural college at Kansas State and numerous agribusiness interests operating there and nearby, is always close to the wheat.

It is the National Festival of Breads, sponsored by a collection of groups, public and private, that help ultimately to convert wheat into bread. Eight contestants, finalists from earlier competition in making and baking breads, will compete for the national title. It happened June 22 at the Holiday Inn convention center, where onlookers can nibble great bread, watch the contestants put together and bake their entries and browse around a trade show.

In brome country—that’s an early-season planted grass used for cattle feed in the form of hay—balers have been out in force just behind swathers to roll up what must be a near-record or record tonnage for these parts.

At least this is one of the tallest brome crops longtime observers can recall. One measurement is the old elbow propped on the pickup door with the window down. The brome tops are or were brushing the elbows. That’s pretty tall brome.

Some of us with memory problems could not remember when we last saw tall brome, seeing as how the last two years were pretty short (height disadvantaged). And when anyone mentioned that this year’s giants seemed pretty “stemmy” he was immediately cut off as a naysayer or worse, a troublemaker. The brome guys were mighty glad to see the heavy crop, stems or not.

On life’s trail and in life’s trials, many find upon arising some fine morning that they have instantly after five or six decades or more of clean and lucky living, developed one or more allergies to something they really like or admire. Two fellows I see almost weekly came down just in the last few years with allergies to various kinds of nuts. No, real ones. They still speak to me.

This year was murder on those who have annual allergic reactions to pollens, molds, dust, water, air, sunshine, clouds, wind, etcetera. In my case it seemed that everywhere I turned for several weeks there was a dull yellow cloud swirling my way. That was the brome “smoking” which is country talk for releasing its huge volumes of pollen. There was enough brome pollen to cross with every flower on the planet if that were allowed, and thank goodness it isn’t. One good friend, a veteran hay-shaker, admitted to me through swollen and teary eyes and raspy voice a few days ago that he guessed it was getting to him.

I am not a brome “guy,” even though I have some. Brome requires a great deal of expensive nitrogen in order to make a decent crop. To me, nitrogen gives more return on other crops, but then again, if you have cattle to feed, brome is all right if it’s already there. Apparently somebody sold the hell out of brome years ago in eastern Kansas. It does hold the soil down, but you have to ask, to what end?

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