What the early wheat harvest will mean

Jim Suber

By A Contributor

This year could be shaping up to be one of those during which we had better be grateful for what we have left, for what we did obtain, for strengths gained through trials.

A speeded up early spring and early flowers and vegetables, but of more economic and social interest, the almost eerie early maturation of the 2012 winter wheat crop in Kansas, have lifted eyebrows at the concurrent and decided lack of rain thus far.

Last week when the first combines rolled into south-central Kansas wheat fields—the town of Kiowa again claiming to have the first wheat taken in by its local granary—the reports of yields and test weights were accompanied by comments from farmers and grain dealers alike that the extreme heat, wind and drough had combined to chop off the high end of the very high yields expected only a month earlier.

And so we enter a reduced wheat harvest nearly a full month ahead of normal, while the gardens already have turned out potatoes and beets, onions and broccoli, asparagus, collards, spinach, lettuce and other items in a similar early fashion.

In many places, the state had already entered a mild winter with a lack of water from last year. That means that now many wells are drawn down and their sources are dwindling.

Pessimists are seeing a brown landscape by mid or late June. Optimists thought it would rain May 19-20, May 24 and several other earlier dates that came and went leaving nothing but memories of a few gray clouds being whisked away in stiff winds toward the northeast driven by hot, dry winds reminiscent of very late June in central and southwestern Kansas shortly after harvest, typically.

Of course, all of this could turn around on a dime and we’re back in business for hay, stock ponds, fishing lakes, stream flows, in addition to aquifers for households and irrigation wells for the fall-harvested corn and soybeans.

We all personalize our droughts and floods, because we are hit personally by them. My story will not match others’ accounts, because of the spotty nature of rains and sudden differences from one place to another. But in general, we can relate.

My wife and I moved to our little farm in July, 1988. When we first saw it a month earlier, it was like a garden paradise. By August, it was over its spring glory and heading for winter. Over the next five years, we lost the equivalent of one full year’s average rainfall, and have since endured several more multiple year dry stretches. In fact, we figure we have had more dry years than wet ones here some 25 miles west of Topeka.

Sometimes Kansans pay dearly for what moisture we do receive. Who among us hasn’t lived through blue northers packing 70 miles an hour wind and hurling hailstones and hail missiles shaped like railroad spikes and almost as hard into our high-priced possessions? Or squatted in shelters as rain-shrouded tornadoes ripped overhead or nearby? Or watched helplessly as 11 inches of rain fell relentlessly in a few hours just upstream to cause horrible floods downstream? Don’t like the weather? As they used to joke, stick around, it’ll change in about 10 minutes. It hasn’t, though, and it’s time for a drink.

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